By Duncan Mlanjira
A fortnight ago, Malawi President Arthur Peter Mutharika formed a special Cabinet Committee to deal with the global threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), but little is being done to assail the anxiety that is in the public domain.
The rest of Africa is taking drastic action, including South Africa that includes banning mass gatherings; closing schools, forced quarantines and imposing extensive travel bans — to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Using a law known as the Disaster Management Act, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramphosa declared a ‘national state of disaster’ enabling the government to have what he called “an integrated and coordinated disaster management mechanism that will focus on preventing and reducing the outbreak of this virus.”
South Africa is just two hours flight away from Malawi and the borders posts are awash with traveler to the Rainbow Nation, which reported confirmed cases of tested positive for the epidemic.
This has prompted Paramount Chief M’mbelwa of Mzimba to ask the Malawi Government to effect travel ban to and from the Rainbow Nation.
As quoted by NationOnline, the Chief says he is concerned that everyday Malawians and other nationals are trekking to and from South Africa.
Paramount Chief M’mbelwa also asks the Government to emulate what other countries have set aside as a priority by banning mass gatherings in order to prevent the spread of the epidemic, saying prevention is better than cure.
“I have spoken with the DHO Mzimba District and we feel this is the right direction,” M’mbelwa is quoted as saying by NationOnline.
The Special Cabinet Committee is supposed to be chaired by Minister of Heath and Population, Jappie Mhango but after the Cabinet reshuffle, that responsibility has gone to the President.
Other members are Ministers of Disaster Management Affairs and Public Events; Finance, Economic Planning and Development; Education, Science and Technology; Homeland Security; Industry, Trade and Tourism; Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development as well as Deputy Minister of Defence.
In forming the special committee, the Government said the objective of was to assess the impact of the COVID-19 and oversee a Cross-Government response to the threat posed.
According to information on the ground, the symptoms of COVID-19 include infection in the throat that start with a sore throat lasting 3/4 days.
The virus then blends into a nasal fluid that enters the trachea and then the lungs, causing pneumonia. This takes about 5/6 days further.
With pneumonia comes high fever and difficulty in breathing. The nasal congestion is not like the normal kind as a patient feels like they are drowning.
On what to do as preventive measures, if one has a runny nose and sputum, they have a common cold because Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose.
This new virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed by a temperature of just 26/27 Celsius.
If someone sneezes with it, it takes about 10 feet before it drops to the ground and is no longer airborne.
If it drops on a metal surface it will live for at least 12 hours. So if someone comes into contact with any metal surface, they must wash their hands as soon as possible with a bacterial soap.
On fabric, it can survive for 6-12 hours and normal laundry detergent will kill it.
Drinking warm water is effective for all viruses and people are discouraged from drinking liquids with ice.
People are advised to wash their hands frequently as the virus can only live on hands for 5-10 minutes, but a lot can happen during that time such as rub eyes, picking the nose unwittingly among others.
People who feel the symptoms should also gargle as prevention with a simple solution of salt in warm water. And there is an emphasize on drink plenty of water.
Commenting on social media, one member of the public says having been involved in the response to Ebola in Sierra Leone and recently spent some 20 weeks in Eastern Congo, the lesson he learnt from these crises was that usually it takes time for people to really do the right thing as communities to protect themselves.
“From a responder perspective we saw a lot of progress when a lot of money was put into community engagement using trained anthropologists and other workers.
“The point I am making is that I think we need to wake up everyone ourselves to the fact that we need to take the right attitudes and also take orders if that time comes.
“Considering things slightly will not help and I believe it may turn out to be easier to socially distance people in Malawi.
“We need action, not talk. This is a great test event for us all. We need all our energies to save our communities.“
Another concerned citizen gives an example of HIV where the country took a bit time to change their behaviours over time.
“We do not have that luxury now, people have to change their behaviours and practices immediately.
“Also discipline — we need to be able to abide by the instructions. And other messages are important to reassure people that if COVID-19 was to come to Malawi everyone should play the game and not think that they will outshine or out-compete anyone by trying to break the rules.
Others observed that the UK is now talking about forced quarantine of anybody over the age of 70 because the situation has gotten out of hand.
“That’s what happens when we fail to take proper measure before the situation escalates,” he said.
A medical practitioner observed that when he went into a hospital ward many visitors but when he tried to impress on them that it was imperative that they leave, his message went on deaf ears.
“They would not bulge. They did not move. [There were] 10 visitors for one patient. It will take huge efforts to change behaviour.”
Another shared his experience when he went for a meeting at one of the offices in Lilongwe on Monday, saying it felt like a little excessive but he appreciated the length they went to demonstrate seriousness.
“We had to wash hands and sanitize 4 times — at the gate, entrance hall, first floor and before entering the office of the meeting.
Another suggested that if the authorities would handle the epidemic like the way serious attention is given to Cholera.
“I think we need to push our Parliament to stop everything and focus on this alone. The response we need is not a Ministry of Health response but a community response which includes everything.
“The diplomatic missions will not make the community more aware and on their feet on this. For once in our history, donors will not respond to this most effectively, we can respond even with our own resources,” said the commentator.