At first there was doubt; covid-19 was not real. Then there was the belief that black people were immune from the disease. Now people are scrambling to find a quick cure, believing all kinds of conspiracy theories that tout anything from hydroxychloroquine, to ginger and lemon mixes, to other kinds of homemade potions and remedies. All this shows one thing: there is a lot of misinformation when it comes to covid-19. What is worse is there doesn’t seem to be a clear response plan on how the country can keep moving forward despite the presence of the disease, be it on the government side, the private sector, or academia.
Sure, as a country, we need to take covid-19 seriously. Everyone has to do his or her part in the fight: wear a mask, wash hands with soap thoroughly and regularly, and maintain social distance. However, the country must not be paralyzed by the disease. This is also the message the president, Lazarus Chakwera, said in his speech on his inauguration. Yet, up to date, his government has not come up with a plan on how life has to move on in the face of covid-19. A month into the new government, institutions of learning remain shut down, with no plans of reopening in sight. In contrast, among the general public, life continues as usual. People continue to attend weddings, religious gathering, funerals, and even football games. So what is shutting down schools alone achieving?
Going by the official numbers, as of July 28, 2020, Malawi had conducted 27,514 tests, of which less than 14 percent came out positive. Out of 3,738 confirmed cases, only 103 succumbed to the disease, representing less than 3 percent. Mentioning these numbers is not an attempt to diminish the suffering of those who have tested positive, nor those who have lost their loved one to the disease. However, the reality is more than 46 percent of those who tested positive have already recovered. As of Tuesday, the country only had a total of 1907 active cases. In a country of more than 17 million people, these digits suggest the country can afford to let go of some of the panic that has gripped it. It is about time the country started working on ways to live with the disease, as it awaits the invention of a vaccine.
It is possible to take the disease seriously without going hysterical over it. The government can take a lead in bringing the country back to some normalcy. In fact, for a government that promised 1 million jobs in its first year in office, it is in its best interest to find ways of safely making the economy functional again. The first step in that process is disseminating the right information. At the moment, the government is just letting conspiracy theories fester. Unfortunately, this is fueling the panic that prevailing from Chitipa to Nsanje. On top of telling the nation the number of cases, deaths, and recoveries, the government must be vigilant in ensuring that the public is equipped with the right information. Not only that, it must make the public understand how the likelihood of dying changes with age and other factors. All this must be done in such a way that minimizes panic.
Speaking of numbers, the government must breakdown the daily figures in its daily covid-19 report by district, and even by particular locations within districts. This means breaking down the 1907 active cases, as of July 28, by district and even by town or village. Not only that, the government must be clear on all the contract tracing it conducts and the results of those. Doing all this will better inform the nation of where the disease is concentrated and how it is spreading. Well informed citizens will be better equipped to fight against the disease and the spread of false information. Not only that, once in public domain, the government can use such information to sell the public on its grand plan of bringing back normalcy, including the reopening institutions of learning.
The plan that the government comes up with will guide the response plans of all other domestic entities. That said, the private sector and, in particular, institutions of higher learning can do their part to help the government in formulating its plan. For instance, it’s not a secret that, since the government shut down schools, private schools are struggling to pay their teachers. Instead of just waiting until the day the government decides to reopen schools, these institutions could come up with concrete ways minimizing the spread of the disease when students return into the classroom. Yes, when schools reopen, there will be students and teachers who get covid-19. But that shouldn’t stop the nation from reopening schools. Students and even teachers can catch the disease anywhere; not just at school. In fact, people have not stopped assembling in communities without any regard to covid-19 preventative measures. Therefore, the country must not be incapacitated by a fear of what will happen should schools reopen. With good planning, the worst case scenario can be avoided.
The entertainment industry, including sports, must also come up with a plan of going back to business and present to the government for approval. For instance, that plan could include restricting the number of attendees and requiring each attendee to present his or her national ID for recordkeeping, which will allow for proper contact tracing should some attendees later on test positive for the virus. Sadly, though, as of now, all that sports governing bodies in particular are telling the nation is they will wait for the government’s direction before they can do anything.
The country refused to cower to covid-19 in the lead up to the 2020 presidential elections. It is now time to channel the same spirit and stand up, in a smart way, to the disease.