When anyone wrongs their neighbor and is required to take an oath and they come and swear the oath before your altar in this temple, then hear from heaven and act. Judge between your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing down on their heads what they have done, and vindicating the innocent by treating them in accordance with their innocence. And when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of the afflictions of their own hearts, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart) …. 1 Kings 8: 31-32,38-39
Leaders everywhere, have a captive audience; when they speak, their members listen. In a pandemic such as the Covid-19 that has infected over two million people and 130,000 deaths, the voices of leaders of all groups are crucial in stopping the spread of the killer virus. At the top of the fighting what the WHO declared a global pandemic, is the collaborating voice of the head of state. His voice cannot and must not be the only voice. All voices everywhere are needed and must be drafted into the fight.
Just when was crying for a leadership voice, President Peter Mutharika unilaterally called for a 21-day national lockdown (starting Saturday, April 18, 2020, to May 9, 2020). The lockdown as the country battles with the virus is a very costly exercise; president gives a 5-point agenda.
These are intensifying laboratory testing for Coronavirus; recruiting health personnel; deploying security personnel; provision of personal protective equipment (PPEs); and conducting massive awareness campaigns. These require a whooping MK150 billion for the implementation of the National Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan.
The week the President with just three confirmed cases, declared a National Disaster, and this column was calling for a shut-down of the nation with full troops at the borders. This week, the total number of confirmed cases has reached double digits and is squirming around 20+.
I have a six-point agenda to supplement President Mutharika’s agenda.
- Malawi is a democracy; as such, the voices of all leaders in the country must be consulted, heard, and used in fighting the pandemic. These are leaders in the two other branches of government (Parliament and the Judiciary), the opposition party members, captains of industry, traditional chiefs, members of civil society, women and of course the youth.
- According to an impromptu study conducted at the New York-Presbyterian /Columbia Hospital, Chief of Obstetrics, Dr. Dena Goffman said that the results of universal testing of all pregnant women that came to give birth at the hospital showed that a significant number of the women, although asymptomatic, tested positive. This indicates that New York City, which has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, could be higher than what is being reported. This underscores again the wisdom in implementing, as did Japan and Korea, universal testing of all residents in Malawi. A good start would be with testing pregnant women. This protects the woman and her family, but if she is positive (and asymptomatic), testing pregnant women would protect the health workers in the hospital.
- There are three scary reasons for the lockdown: it is harvest, and tobacco seasons and an election looms writ large. The military should be dispatched to the rural communities to help keep law and order and to protect the harvest. The government should be prepared to pay farmers for their loss. Lastly, the government must OPEN the MBC now, to allow for all political parties equal access to the public broadcaster.
- The lockdown must be an all-inclusive exercise, one that should not just affect poor Malawians or non-DPP people. Consideration must be made on how nurses and other essential workers, will get to work.
- There is talk of money from donors, the government should give every Malawian a MwK50,000.00 stipend during the lockdown. This will go a long way to avoiding widespread robberies and avert hunger. An added incentive is to lower the taxes of employers that do not dismiss their labor force.
- The government must instruct Malawi-based manufacturing companies to make PPEs. Malawi does not need to import face masks or gowns with all the tailors it has; it has raw materials for making alcohol, and therefore, does not need to import hand sanitizers. Companies that distill alcohol can easily revert to making these products.
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