Malawi must brace for tough times economically as the US Embassy in Lilongwe has issued an alert to American citizens to register if they are ready to be repatriated in the face of the deadly coronavirus (Covid-19).
The US is planning a special flight to leave Lilongwe two weeks from April 8.
The evacuation plan is coming at a time the US is the most hit country by the global Covid-19 pandemic, which by the week ending on Saturday had claimed 18 777 lives in that country while the number of confirmed cases is at 501 000, according to a report by Al Jazeera.
Malawi has so far registered 12 cases, with two deaths.
Head of Economics Department at Catholic University, Hope Kawaye said, in an interview on Saturday, that the planned departure may have a negative impact on Malawi economically, considering that the Americans are implementing a number of projects in the country.
He said: “Developed countries such as America, prioritise the safety of their citizens and very likely they may not object to anyone who decides to leave, no matter how crucial their roles could be in Malawi.
“The worry is that there are several projects being run by them in Malawi such as in the energy sector, education and the Millennium Challenge Account. If they leave in their large numbers, we can feel the negative impact.”
The rationale behind individuals’ decision to leave, according to Kawaye, could be that the Americans living in Malawi envisage the crisis they may find themselves in if the virus hits Malawi hard since the country has a much weaker healthcare system compared to the US.
US Embassy public affairs officer Douglas Johnston told Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) that his government resolved to repatriate its willing citizens because the US considers the safety and welfare of citizens as of paramount importance.
He said the proposed flight was in response to requests the embassy was receiving from Americans living in the country.
Asked if it was not going to be in breach of travel restrictions Malawi and other nations have put in place, Johnston said the US Mission enjoys excellent relations with the Malawi Government and, naturally, they would be in close contact as they seek to fulfil their obligations to the safety and security of their citizens.
The alert from the US Embassy requestedAmericans willing to be repatriated to immediately contact the US Embassy Consular Section via the Lilongwe Evacuation Request Form, no later than 7.30 am on April 14.
The US, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announced Wednesday that government had brought home more than 50 000 Americans who were stranded abroad since the start of the pandemic.
Speaking at the daily White House coronavirus task force press briefing, Pompeo said the effort from the State Department to repatriate Americans abroad was “without parallel in our lifetime”.
Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ben Botolo said in an interview on Saturday that the US Embassy wrote his ministry of their plan to repatriate their citizens.
“They are very open to us and we are also open to them. They are doing all necessary things and everything is being done openly. They want to have the census of their citizens ready to go and they are not forcing them,” Botolo said.
He said the situation is worse in the US than here but, apparently, the Americans are not sure of the capacity of Malawi’s health system if the pandemic hit Malawi hard.