Despite an upsurge in Covid-19 cases that have been dominated by local transmissions, vendors have gone back to the streets in Blantyre central business district and Limbe Town.
Public health experts have since condemned the behaviour, saying it is not helping stem the pandemic while Blantyre City Council (BCC) says it still maintains its anti-street vending policy.
The development comes four months after BCC chased the vendors off the streets and relocated them to designated flea markets.
While the situation is different in the cities of Lilongwe and Mzuzu, in Blantyre it has worsened by the lack of adherence to some of the government gazetted Covid-19 prevention measures.
Most vendors do not wear face masks while the few that do, do not wear them properly and do not observe social distancing. However, most consumers buying their merchandise are seen wearing masks.
Ironically, there is noticeable presence of police to enforce the Covid-19 prevention measures, including wearing of face masks.
Among the common products sold by the vendors are ginger and lemons which are believed to be effective in preventing Covid-19.
In an interview, a Blantyre vendor Thomas Banda said they have returned to the streets because business is slow at the flea markets.
He said: “Sometimes we stay the whole day without selling anything so we decided to come back here. If we are chased again, then let it be.”
In a separate interview, Limbe vegetable seller Mariana Phekani said while they are concerned with the Covid-19 pandemic, they felt the flea markets are not helping them business-wise.
When contacted, BCC public relations manager Anthony Kasunda said the council still stands by its no-street-vending policy.
He said: “The council will do everything possible to ensure residents are protected and one way is to enforce the no-street-vending policy.”
When asked what they will do next following the vendors return, Kasunda said they did not stop enforcing their no-street-vending policy; hence, they will remove the vendors.
The council spokesperson said it is easier to enforce Covid-19 measures in markets, making reference to government’s newly-gazetted Covid-19 rules and regulations which state that all vendors should be in designated markets.
On Sunday, President Lazarus Chakwera, announced the new measures as a prevention strategy to contain the pandemic.
In a speech delivered at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe, the President directed Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo to gazette the new guidelines that include closing markets not later than 5pm and that merchants and customers wear face masks at all times.
Meanwhile, public health experts have stated that any activity that falls short of the Covid-19 prevention measures is a form of injustice and borders on criminal behaviour.
In an interview, infectious disease and public health expert Dr Titus Divala said people should realise that to reduce the scary numbers of new cases and deaths, everyone should do his part in all elements of prevention.
He said: “It is also worth mentioning that it is wrong to wait for law enforcement before we act. There is no way the police will manage getting us all in check because we outnumber them, but one thing for sure is that we have the power to keep the virus in check.
“The more we observe the measures, the shorter will the restrictions be. The more we loosen up, the higher the transmission, the further away will we be pushing the data based on lifting of restrictions.”
In an e-mail response, epidemiology professor at University of Malawi’s College of Medicine Adamson Muula said such behaviours are not helping to stem the pandemic; hence, the need to quickly find solutions to such occurrences.
“Street vending is just one of the main issues that compromise physical distancing and can be a conduit from a host of infectious diseases. The situation puts both vendors and the public at risk of Covid-19 as vending overcrowds the streets,” he said.
On his part, Consumers Association of Malawi executive director John Kapito said it is unfortunate vendors are back in the streets after a lot of resources invested in relocating them and also at a time government wants to decongest public places to contain Covid-19.
He, however, said Malawi is a country good at making bold policy statements that lack implementation.
Asked why the vendors are defying the law under the watch of police officers, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera in a telephone interview said they will continue engaging councils to see how best the issue of street vending can be addressed.
He said: “We will be engaging with the councils to ensure that this issue of street vending is dealt with accordingly.”
On enforcement of Covid-19 prevention measures, Kadadzera said police officers in towns and cities are reminding people to put on masks, adding that those not adhering to the precautionary measures are being arrested.
He cited Lilongwe Police Station which arrested over 30 people for non-compliance yesterday.
In September last year, police in conjunction with BCC officials chased street vendors days after vendors in Mzuzu and Lilongwe were also thrown out.