Analysis by Duncan Mlanjira
Since candidates presented their nomination papers last week to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), some of the strict measures — keeping social distance; avoiding mass gatherings and staying at home — that were set in declaring a State of Disaster, have been flouted as the candidates are organizing mass political rallies ahead of the July 2 fresh presidential elections.
This utter disregard to the dangers associated with mass gatherings where infections can easily be passed on has been criticized by the public as well as CSOs and other stakeholders as this sends wrong signals to people who might decide not serious take some of the preventive measures.
Before the first presentation of nomination papers at Mount Soche Hotel by the electoral alliance of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party on Wednesday last week, started over 30 minutes late because the MEC Commissioners were refusing to enter a congested hall.
Prior to the presentation exercise, MEC had stressed that the parties and candidates were only supposed to send 20 delegates but on this day, the hall was contaminated by other unaccredited officials and supporters, prompting the Commissioners to refuse to enter the hall to administer the process.
Outside the hotel and in the streets, thousands of supporters had gathered and as soon as the exercise was done, MCP president Lazarus Chakwera and his running mate Saulos Chilima went on a motorcade parade along streets of Blantyre passing through Ndirande where they drew mass gatherings to take a glimpse of them.
The next day was the same during the turn of the president of Democratic Progress Party (DPP) Peter Mutharika and his running mate Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Party (UDF) but sanity had been restored in the hall as there was a sizable number of delegates.
But these two also went on a motorcade parade and also passed through Ndirande — equally drawing large crowds.
Atupele went on a whistle stop of tour last Saturday from Blantyre to Mangochi, stopping at Thondwe, Zomba City central, Chinamwali Namwera Turn-off, Liwonde and Ulongwe to finish with a mass rally at Mangochi Boma.
The next day he visited Ntcheu and also attracted mass gatherings while Chakwera and Chilima held their mass rally in Mzuzu also on Sunday.
All these leaders have been advocating for the public to take the preventive measures seriously but they are the same who are flouting it.
When announcing the official launch of the campaign period on May 2 that will run for 30 days to end on June 30, MEC chairperson Justice Jane Ansah SC asked all candidates to find other innovative ways of reaching out to the electorate considering that this will be done during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ansah asked for the observance various public health guidelines and restrictions that are in place.
When asked if this will derail some of the measures that the Blantyre District Health (DHO) has in place in which it plans to increase its awareness campaign in rural areas, Director of Social Services, Dr. Gift Kawalazira described what is happening as disheartening because it has the potential of sending the wrong signal that its business as usual.
Kawalazira was asked this question when he outlined that they have a three-pronged approach to containing further spread of COVID-19 and one of them is to reach out to the rural masses where they noticed that its business as usual.
“This is the time when we should all join hands to make sure we protect each other,” Kawalazira said during a press conference he was invited to attend organised by the Asian Business Community (ABC) COVID-19 Task Force on Monday at Hotel Victoria in Blantyre.
“It’s the duty of every to paractise what they are preaching and we come in to complement their efforts,” he said.
Kawalazira disclosed that so far Blantyre registered 16 cases, 40 days since the first positive case was discovered on April 2 of which one died, five recovered and the other 10 are under surveillance together with their contacts.
On Saturday, the Ministry of Health announced that the country registered 13 new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the nationwide total figure at 56 since the first registered case.
The ABC COVID-19 Task Force, just as many corporate citizens and other stakeholders that are closely working with the Blantyre DHO, said at the presser that Malawi should learn the same lesson the world has learnt over COVID-19 pandemic and that is to “be ready to lose loved ones but a hard lesson we would rather avoid”.
“We need to work together as a country and community and get very serious about what lies ahead because doing nothing is no longer an option,” said ABC COVID-19 Task Force vice-chairperson, Dr. Parth Patel.
“We do not have adequate medical staff of facilities necessary to cope with the extra burden that COVID-19 will put on the health system.
“Whilst this Task Force works towards this, we need to understand that providing critically ill patients with ventilation care will not be possible until the Ministry of Health sets up a COVID-19 intensive care unit.
Patel, who is a medical doctor by profession, said hospitals in are not currently treating COVID-19 positive patients because of infection risk and this leaves one clear option — prevention.
“The growth of COVID-19 cases shows spread into the general population and numbers are going to be very high and quickly.
“This means everyone is now at risk, not just those that have travelled abroad or have been in contact with anyone who have travelled — everyone is at risk.
“Those with heart conditions such as heart diseases, diabetes, respiratory diseases, high blood pressure and other underlying conditions, are at greater risk as are other older members of the society.
“We need to protect them alongside our health workers, who are also exposed, by minimizing our own risk of contracting COVID-19,” he said.
Soon after its formation on March 26, the ABC of Blantyre, Limbe and Zomba rolled out a partial lockdown of 14 days that was effected from April 9 for a period of 14 days, ending April 23.
The conditions set for the lockdown under effect included asking everyone over the age of 53 years to stay within the confines of their home; that all domestic staff over the age of 53 be given a paid 14 days leave and that all those with existing underlying health conditions to stay within the confines of their home.
The womenfolk (if not main breadwinners) and children remained within the confines of their home, except in the case of emergencies and only the bread winner of the family left the house to go to work between 6am till 7pm.
Non-breadwinners went out to get medical supplies, food and essential household items and that restaurants must operate on a delivery or take out basis.
Most of these measures are still in force in order to win the fight against COVID-19, as said by the Task Force’s chairperson Faizal Aboo at the press briefing.
In recognizing the swift and well coordinated initiatives done, it pleased President Mutharika to appoint one of its members to be part of the 21-member Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, that replaced the Special Cabinet Committee on COVID-19 that was set up on March 7 before the State of Disaster was declared on March 20.
Patel paid special tribute to President Mutharika for entrusting them to contribute their knowledge and expertise towards the national agenda.