When I wrote my last article for this column, Malawi had not yet recorded a single case of Covid-19. We were among only six countries in the world that were yet to record a positive case. Now, just over a month later, we have over a hundred cases and a public health system that is still struggling.
The question I have been asking myself ever since is; “are we ever going to get anything right?” Despite so much talk by the Ministry of Health of how well prepared we were for the pandemic before it hit, Malawi was caught pants down when the country recorded the first three cases on April 2. And it looks like we still haven’t gotten our act together up to now.
Let me start with the enforcement of set down preventative measures meant to slow down the spread of Covid-19. All our cities were quick to announce several restrictions including restricting the number of church attendees, closing operations of pubs and night clubs, restaurants allowed for takeout only, banning wedding receptions, football matches, and live music performances.
Ordinarily one would have thought that our city authorities had thought all this through, in terms of how all these restrictions would be adhered to. It didn’t take long to show that the imposed restrictions were hollow. A few bars defied the ban and opened and some restaurants let people sit down and eat. Nothing happened. No police or city authorities came rushing to close them down. No reprimands, no fines. Nothing.
As would be expected, a few others followed suit and slowly business as usual returned, suffice to say the number of positive cases was also steadily rising. Up to now, no city council has provided a compelling reason for failing to enforce their restrictions.
A bulk of the positive Covid-19 cases, like most things in our country, have been imported. Again because someone enjoyed saying that our borders would be closed without figuring out how. People from Tanzania where their statistics of the pandemic are grimmer than ours have continued to pour in and allowed to go further into Malawi with an understanding that they will self-isolate. Why we didn’t invest in establishing proper quarantine infrastructures right at the port of entry remains unexplained.
And then comes this fiasco of the repatriates from South Africa. All stakeholders knew for weeks that this group of Malawians would come into the country but somehow still failed to put together a workable plan of what would happen once they arrived on Malawi soil. I wonder what the Covid-19 committee was doing in all the meetings they had to discuss the return of these citizens.
Last week, this special committee lamented the behavior of politicians, questioning their rationale for holding mass rallies to woe voters for the impending presidential election. But how different are they from the politicians if they can allow over 300 potentially Covid-19 positive people to escape isolation and mix with communities. Is the kettle calling the pot black?
I cannot put my finger on it, but something is seriously wrong with us in as far as this pandemic is concerned. We seem to always screw things up. In an ideal world, being one of the last countries to catch the virus would have given us an enviable advantage because we would have learned from other countries, but it looks like things are working in reverse order.
I like to think that I am an optimist, so I believe that it is not too late to slow the spread. We just need to be serious. Let city and town councils in concert with relevant government agencies and institutions start enforcing all the restrictions set in April. While appreciating that every individual has a responsibility to stop this virus, I am not too naïve to believe that some people won’t need responsibility forced on them.
Marcus Muhariwa is a trained journalist and communications professional. He has a passion for writing on social issues.