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Lone-driver mask enforcement faulted

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James Kadadzera

Government and health expert have disagreed with the police enforcement of mask-wearing regulation when there is one person in a vehicle but emphasise the need for drivers to have facemasks at hand all the time.

The debate has ensued over law enforcers’ decision to force a person—who is alone in the car—to wear a facemask all the time, with some people condemning the action as the country is battling the third wave of coronavirus that has seen over 1,300 people die.

Blantyre-based motor vehicle owner Rachel Mhango said she had a firsthand experience of the issue when a gun-brandishing police officer—while at a filling station in Limbe—knocked at her car’s window and ask her to put on her mask despite that she was alone in the car.

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“One officer knocked on my car window with a gun saying I should wear a mask. I just laughed and drove off,” she said.

Balaka resident Precious Msosa also said he was stopped by the police for not wearing a facemask when he was all alone in the vehicle.

“Officers, on their Covid guidelines enforcement routine, stopped me and one of them asked: “Abwana mask ili kuti?” [boss, where is your facemask?]. I pointed at the mask that was strapped to my chin. She asked why I did not wearing it properly and I said I was all alone in the car. She argued that what if I had dropped someone along the way? And I just laughed off,” he said.

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But Malawi Police Service spokesperson James Kadadzera said Police officers were enforcing the regulations as they understand them, saying if anyone feels that their rights have been infringed upon, they can seek assistance from relevant offices.

“Our job is not to interpret the laws. What we do is enforce. If you want the interpretations, go to those who made the laws,” he said.

Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda said what is important is that people who are alone in their car must have a facemask with them so that whenever they are meeting other people they can put it on.

“You could be alone in your car but, along the way, meet someone you know. By the time you are picking them or lowering your glass to speak to them, you should have the facemask on,” she said.

Kandodo Chiponda hailed law enforcers for playing an important role in enforcing Covid preventative measures.

Public health expert Professor Adamson Muula agreed with the minister that it is not a must for those who are alone in the cars to wear facemasks.

He, however, said people should have them ready in case they meet other people along the way.

“And there is this issue of being forced to wear a facemask when you are with your wife. To me, that is nonsensical because, after that, you will go home, take off the facemasks, get on the bed and be even closer,” he said.

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