April 2 2020
As I write, there are 950 638 cases of coronavirus across the globe. So far, 48 289 deaths have been reported, while 202 631 people have recovered from the novel virus.
The pandemic has spread far and wide, tearing apart our very social fibre. Within a short period, we have learned to greet each other in strange ways; washing hands has become the norm; we have worn surgical masks even in the most unthought of places, like banks.
Several countries, including our neighbours, have imposed lockdowns, where citizens are not supposed to go out of their homes and go about their affairs. Life has come, literally, to a standstill. Our individualism has grown to unfathomable extents for where friends gave us a shoulder to cry on, today they will shun you, for fear of catching the virus.
As I write, there has been no reported case in Malawi. Yet, we all feel the effects of the bug that has struck the rich and famous of this world, as well as little known men in society. As a matter of fact, the buzz has been to pray against all odds that we should be spared the virus.
In whispers, people have said: Imagine the coronavirus in Mtandire, Ndirande, Mbayani or Masasa! The very thought of it makes you shudder.
President Peter Mutharika last week announced drastic measures as he announced a state of national disaster. For one, he issued a diktat that the number of people in one place should not exceed 100. Schools were closed and K15 billion was put aside to cushion the pandemic.
It is evident that some of the decisions were made in haste, without deeper thought. Take, for instance, the closing down of schools with those awaiting to sit for the Malawi School Certificate Examination (MSCE) and the primary school leaving exams. It is sad that these students will be held in limbo as to when they will write the exams, if at all.
This week, various councils have followed Mutharika’s edict to the letter. For instance, the Blantyre City Council (BCC) chased vendors off the streets. It has been a while that the city was losing its stature as vendors went as far as selling maungu, denje, zumba and chisoso right on the streets. For a long time, some residents have been weeping and wailing but the council, not willing to touch the raw nerve because the matter would turn political.
It is evident that the poor are the ones suffering the most with the bans. As minibuses have reduced the number of passengers to two per sit, it is worrisome that the Malawian on the street will have to cough more for their transport fare. And, with rising transport costs will come price increases for goods. It is sad that the poor are being forced to dig deeper in their pockets even when no case has been reported in the land. The picture becomes even more gloomy when you try to think of what the future holds, with a possible lockdown. Can the Malawian on the street, who depends on getting crumbs on a daily basis afford to stay indoors for 21 days?