First line of defense against COVID-19 is the general public itself — Chakwera

By Duncan Mlanjira

While health care workers and health facilities are the last line of defense against infectious diseases like COVID-19, President Lazarus Chakwera reiterates that the general public itself is the first line of defense.

The President announced this on Saturday during his weekly national address in which he was reporting on the status of the country’s fight against the Coronavirus pandemic after meeting the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 to assess the situation.

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He reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has just gone past 4,000 with about 100 new cases being confirmed every day, whose transmission is now almost entirely local.

Saturday’s COVID-19 situation update indicated that Malawi has registered 108 new cases, 39 new recoveries and six new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 120 since April when the country recorded its first three cases.

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A situation report from co-chairperson of Presidential Taskforce Force on COVID-19, Dr. John Phuka says of the new cases 60 were from Blantyre, 22 from Lilongwe, 12 from Nkhata Bay, five from Zomba and one each from Balaka, Chiradzulu, Chitipa, Dowa, Likoma, Mangochi and Mzimba North.

Cumulatively, Malawi has recorded 4,186 cases and of these cases, 993 are imported infections and 3,193 are locally transmitted.

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Cumulatively, 1,914 cases have now recovered bringing the total number of active cases to 2,152.

Chakwera implored on Malawians that each of them individually have the power to act in ways that help the pandemic to spread or that stop it from spreading.

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“Where there are poor health facilities, the government can renovate them; where there are insufficient testing kits, the government can scale up testing kits and testing sites; where health workers need more supplies, the government can expand the supply chain; where the virus breaks out, the government can intensify isolation measures.

“But there are limits to what the government can do, and one of those limits is that the government must never be allowed or expected to do what the citizen ought to.”

He continued to say that the only solution or weapon for beating this pandemic is stopping its spread that demands three W’s — Watch Distance; Wash Hands and Wear Mask.

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He said none of these interventions and coordinated efforts will matter if the citizenry is still behaving as if there is no pandemic.

“At present, the most fierce outbreaks of the virus are occurring in the urban areas of Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu, as well as in the districts that are along the borders with neighboring countries, and yet surprisingly, there are millions of people in these places ignoring the three simple rules of prevention.

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“At the moment, we do not yet have the law in place to enforce these rules and punish those found to be in violation of them, but the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice are working on providing such a law.

“But the bottom line is that this fight is a matter of your life and death, and so it should not require a law and a police officer to force you to do three simple things that will save your life and save the lives of those you love, those you work with, and those you live with.

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“You are our first line of defense against this virus, and if you do not do your part by consistently observing these three simple rules, then all the efforts of the government and our health workers will be in vain. This is a fight for all of us.

He also asked parents and guardians that they have an indispensable role in protecting their children from exposure to the virus by enforcing these three simple rules with everyone who visits your home.

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“You also have a duty to ensure that while you wait for the Ministry of Education to announce our policy for when, where, and how to open schools safely, your children are not being exposed to physical and sexual abuse in the home.

“When I say this is a fight for all of us, I am including the private sector. If you own or operate a business that customers patronize in person, even in the market, you have a civic duty to protect them by providing facilities for sanitizing their hands and requiring them to wear a mask and observe social distancing.

“When I say this is a fight for all of us, I am including minibus operators, who have a civic duty to protect their customers by refusing to carry any passengers who are not wearing a mask and whose hands have not been sanitized.

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“This is a fight for all of us, and I am confident that just as you hold the government accountable for its duty, you will hold each other accountable for yours.”

He painted a grim picture of the situation on the ground that although the country now have the capacity to test over 2,000 people every day, less than half of that number are being tested, which is not enough to trace and track the spread of the virus.

“The final piece of bad news is that the virus continues to severely disrupt our economy and social order, as several businesses have been forced to either close or scale down operations by laying people off or sending them on leave.

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“In some cases, entire sectors and industries have ground to a halt, such as our tourism industry and international travel.

“In the education sector, schools have fallen behind their curricula, with no definitive direction on when, where, and how to open schools safely.”

He added that even though a few private and international schools have introduced online platforms for learning, most of the models used have so far proven to be unsustainable.

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“Not only has the cost of data been prohibitive, but the lack of training and support for both parents and teachers to facilitate home-based education and guarantee a suitable learning environment for kids has unfairly burdened families with an approach more focused on completion of work than creating a dynamic learning experience that delivers robust learning outcomes.