The more I hear Malawians debate about lockdown the more I get confused. There are more TV questions than answers that I get from daily briefs by the concerned public officials.
First let’s get our vocabulary right. Is it Lockdown or restrictions on some freedoms such as movement, assembly, association etc?
Second if it is Lockdown does it apply throughout the country or just in urban areas? If it is throughout the country how do we police villagers in their daily access to water and food and sanitation issues such as bathing at the river or drawing water from the river or borehole to be used for bathing? What about their livestock that go on free grazing? Or indeed fetching food for their livestock? What about daily harvesting and replanting as happens with cassava? Think of fishermen that provide daily relish to villagers along the lake? Mind you fishing is both for subsistence and at the same time offering piecework to non owners of dug out canoes and boats.
Third there is the issue of enforcement of -be it Lockdown or restrictions on movement. Surely in villages there is need of co-opting traditional leaders. If so have we Civic educated them enough? How do we minimise if not eliminate corruption in the enforcement of these public health measures. This is one area where political parties leadership working in unison with traditional leaders would really ensure full compliance to the proposed measures.
Fourthly how are we addressing the issue of resultant hardships amongst the vulnerable groups eg poor, old aged, persons with disabilities, orphans etc. We need to provide solutions before we start enforcing these measures.
Fifthly is it not possible to implement these public health measures gradually and parochially as and when we identify the presence of COVID-19 in a particular area. As of now we know that it’s Blantyre Lilongwe Chikwawa Zomba and Nkhota kota. Why don’t we try to limit lockdown or restrictions on movements in these districts/areas?
I am told that these public health measures must go hand in glove with testing. Are we doing enough testing? Do we have enough testing kits? Are we busy procuring testing kits and PPE kits for our health workers. By the way have we resolved labour issues with our health workers?
That takes me to the frequently asked question by employers and managers. Are employers legally bound to pay employees during period of lockdown? Or they can simply furlough them? Or should it be treated as annual leave? But what if the employee already went on annual leave? What is the guarantee that Lockdown will only last 21 days? What’s guarantee that the SME will survive the lockdown?
Minister of Labour and minister of finance need to address these issues. Employers and employees feel bad about paying taxes on earnings that sound more like social security provision which ordinarily ought to be Govt responsibility.
I can go on and on…..
Simply put: this is a political issue that requires political solution by politicians. Period.
It’s against this background that we need a national conversation on what public health measures are appropriate for our country. Emergency parliamentary sitting is much needed at this time.
We reiterate: notice, consultation and public participation are key elements to legitimacy, acceptability and enforceability of public health measures.
Students of Policy Transfer theory emphasise on adaptation and not wholesale transplantation.
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