The second wave of the raging Covid-19 pandemic is hitting Malawi hard. The rate at which the virus is spreading and claiming lives is distressing.
Obviously, a nation with one of the weakest healthcare systems in the world is overawed. Doctors have even called for volunteers to come on board and ease the pressure that keeps piling up in hospitals and isolation centres.
The news is grim; we are a nation at war and it is everyone’s war. The truth is that the scourge is not discriminating; it is not choosing who to strike. Most of the privileges that place some people at an advantage in accessing healthcare services have been lunged to the periphery.
The biggest challenge is that even researchers seem to have no clue about when a cure for the disease will be discovered. So, in the meantime, we are banking all our hopes on prevention which, however, is proving very difficult.
It is often the case with situations which require everyone to get their hands on the deck if the larger group is serious about making any meaningful progress. That is why there is a need for radical mindset change if we are to defeat this virus.
Of course, in moments of crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, leadership from the very top is most sought. There are people who act after more seriously when they hear instructions from their president than any other lower public officer.
That is normal; the presidency is the most powerful office in a nation and its bearer must always decisively lead. Any response to a crisis must largely bear the face of a nation’s president.
Perhaps that is why some sections of society had reservations with President Lazarus Chakwera’s purported silence during the first days of the pandemic’s second wave. They were justified to demand that their leader should speak to them; announce his government’s strategic direction that would lead the battle against the virus.
Well, the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 has, ever since the virus appeared in Malawi, done everything within its powers to guide the fight against it. Where necessary, it has given guidelines in line with public health regulations, only falling short of declaring what is only reserved for the President.
So, yes, more was expected from Chakwera and, when he came out to address the nation on a number of measures that his government has put in place to contain the spread of Covid-19, there was stark relief among Malawians that, finally, the battle was being fought from the topmost level.
But, somehow, such relief or its mere expression is hypocritical. No one can claim that they were not aware that a virus is in our midst and that it is killing mercilessly. No one can state with the courage of their convictions that they did not know the preventive measures that they are supposed to implement as individuals.
I will say it again that any crisis that is threatening to bring a nation to its knees needs a president to lead the fight. But that does not mean the rest of the citizens should rest on their laurels.
Of course, the State has the responsibility of protecting lives of people; even careless ones who will, without shame, shove themselves into glaring danger. The State must ensure that every citizen is safe; that no life is taken needlessly.
But, to a larger extent, such State responsibility is as effective as the rationality and judgement of those it seeks to protect. The State might put in place all the support that citizens require to stay safe and healthy but if the citizens themselves continue acting carelessly, such measures will turn out to be useless.
For instance, it should not take the police or any other government officer to remind someone, who cares about how brutal Covid-19 is, to put on their face masks or keep some considerable physical distance from others while in public places.
Why should everyone not take it as their personal responsibility to stay safe in the midst of the scourge, which does not discriminate? It is preposterous to hear and see that some people keep making very dangerous and depraved personal decisions that are endangering their lives and those of others they come into contact with.
Despite that, by now, we know that coronavirus spreads faster where many people gather in one place, and that government has imposed strict regulations on such gatherings, there are those who keep defying the modest directive.
Literally, there are people who will not budge even if the President speaks until his voice is hoarse. However, that does not imply Chakwera should abrogate his duty of guiding the nation when it needs him most.
Even if he is not announcing any drastic measures of containing the virus, appearing before Malawians and reminding them that we are a nation at war is enough to change perceptions and habits.
So, while it is everyone’s responsibility to put all efforts in fighting the furious plague, the war must be led from the top. Sometimes, just a small tint of inspiration is what is required for everyone to join the fight against a ravaging contagion.