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Government imposes partial ‘lockdown’

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Khumbidze Kandodo-Chiponda

Government has imposed a ‘partial’ lockdown as a containment measure for the spread of coronavirus which, among others, will see the indefinite close of schools, prohibits gathering of not more than 10 people and imposes mandatory wearing of masks.

The new measures confine Malawians to their place of residences excerpt when performing an essential service, obtaining essential goods, visiting pharmacy, food supply or market, attending funeral of spouse, parent or blood child, assisting a close family member who suffers from a distressing situation or else, a penalty of K100,000 awaits those who will contravene the new measures.

Minister of Health, Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, Co-Chairperson of the Presidential taskforce on Covid-19, John Phuka, Minister of Information, Gospel Kazako and the Attorney General (AG), Chikosa Silungwe, took turns explaining the gazetted guidelines.

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What immediately comes out clear in the general prevention measures is that wearing masks and observing social distance is now mandatory.

Silungwe said the enforcement of the new ‘tough’ measures, that were gazetted last week, started Saturday and a team of enforcement personnel comprising health officers, immigration officers, men in uniform and chiefs, among others, has been put in place.

Silungwe said the government has simply provided guidelines not imposed a lockdown.

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“This is not a lockdown. People are expected to go to work. We are emphasising on people to be sanitising, wear masks and observe social distance,” he said.

The new measures were laid out during a press briefing the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 had in Lilongwe Sunday.

Some of the notable measures include:

  • Limit public gatherings to less than 10 people except for funerals, a meeting of the National Assembly and meetings to discuss Covid-19 measures.
  • Schools to remain closed until such a time Minister of Health, in consultation with the Minister of Education, orders re-opening of the schools.
  • People showing signs of Covid-19 shall not be allowed to use public transport.
  • Bar owners can open for business every day from 2 O’clock in the afternoon to 8 O’clock in the evening but strictly for take away services.

“A funeral of anyone who has died of any other cause, other than Covid-19, shall be attended by not more than fifty people… a person who contravenes this rule shall be liable to a fine of K100,000 and imprisonment for three months,” reads the measures in part.

While there were calls for government to re-open schools, especially from private school operators, government says schools will remain closed for now.

“Where the Minister [of Health] orders the re-opening of an education institution in accordance with Sub rule(1) that education institution shall ensure that measures are adhered to,” read the measures.

During the press briefing, Kandodo Chiponda said Malawi is losing productive citizens due to the pandemic and as such, wearing masks is now mandatory in order to contain the disease.

“In order to stop the spread of coronavirus in our midst we need to collectively practice preventive and containment measures. Our daily decisions should be aimed at stopping the virus from spreading and causing more damage to our lives,” she said.

Phuka, who is Co-Chairpeson of the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19, then said as the number of Covid-19 deaths is nearing 150 in Malawi, wearing masks and avoiding gatherings should be the new norm.

The new measure also empowers the Minister of Health to declare a lockdown for a particular area if it has recorded many cases of Covid-19.

“People who fail to wear face masks in public will be required to pay a fine of K10,000,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, in a statement released immediately after the measures were announced, said it was displeased with the manner in which the guidelines were issued, saying they were taken by surprise.

“In wider society, the previous guidelines were largely ignored but in churches, we applied them diligently. We believe we still have a role to play in this regard. However, since we are law abiding, we the Catholic Bishops instruct all the clergy, the Religious and the Laity to suspend forthwith all church gatherings until further notice,” reads the statement in part.

But Ministry of Health acknowledged receiving expressions of concern from leaders of the faith community regarding the recently gazetted rules for the prevention, containment, and management of Covid-19.

“In recognition of the integral role of the faith community in the fabric of Malawian society in general and the fight against the spread of Covid-19 in particular, the Ministry has resolved to engage religious leaders in further consultations,” reads the statement.

The statement signed by Chiponda said the aim of these additional consultations is to reach a consensus regarding contextualised methods of applying the rules to religious gatherings that protect religious freedom without compromising the public safety the rules are designed to achieve.

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