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Not if but when

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Today I want to talk about the novel Coronavirus, which the World Health Organisation has code named COVID-19. The disease, which broke out in Wuhan, Hubei province in China, has spread to over 80 countries and regions across the world.

Since it was reported about three months ago, the virus has already infected 80,000 people in China alone, killing 3,042 in the process. Currently, Italy, South Korea, and Iran are some of the countries recording higher infection rates than China itself.

However, before I proceed, allow me a few lines to pay tribute to Vice- Chancellor of the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) Professor Address Malata for the progressive decision she has made to ban the use of thin plastics on her campus.

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At a time when the government is doing nothing to enforce the ban as determined by the Supreme Court of Appeal in July 2019, having a top university in Malawi such as MUST take the court ruling seriously is a development to be celebrated.

While the Ministry of Environmental Affairs is paralysed by politics, Professor Malata has demonstrated leadership from the front. Imagine what difference it would make for our environment if other institutions followed suit.

Professor, you are a change maker. You lead by doing, a trait that is very deficient in most of our leaders. Keep blazing the trail at MUST. Your type of leadership might just be the hope Malawi needs for the future.

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Now, back to the Coronavirus. As of Thursday, COVID-19 stopped being a disease that ravaged far off places such as Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and distant corners of Africa as just two-hour plane ride away from here in South Africa, a positive case was confirmed.

This case of a 38-year old man who had returned from Italy with ten others was the first in Southern Africa, but looking at the spreading pattern of the virus, soon more cases will be confirmed in South Africa and then more countries in the region will catch it. The question is, are we prepared?

I know I run the risk of being accused of being a prophet of doom, but call me a realist as well. That someone will test positive to COVID-19 in Malawi should no longer be discussed as a matter of if but when. South Africa is a country we deal with a lot and brothers and sisters from there fly to Malawi all the time. Not to mention those who travel by road.

Like most Malawians, my biggest concern is our weak public health system. I am not sure if we have what it takes to stop the spread of a highly contagious virus such as COVID-19. Up to now, I have not seen any deliberate and comprehensive public awareness of the disease. You would have thought that by now, prevention messages would be on all the radio stations and television.

Some people have rightly wondered if countries with some of the best public health systems such as Italy, Japan, and South Korea are struggling to contain this killer-virus’ rapid spread, does Malawi stand a chance considering that we also depend on those same countries for assistance in our health system?

I believe it is not too late now to flood the country with the right information about COVID-19 and how to prevent it. Our health system will not be able to stop this virus from spreading, but if people have usable information, they will protect themselves and be spared. Time to act is now.

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