WE should hope for the best but prepare immediately for the worst over COVID-19, urges Socialist Party president Fred M’membe.
In a statement on behalf of the Socialist Party politburo yesterday on the coronavirus spread, Dr M’membe said the impact of COVID-19 on Zambia’s economy can already be seen.
“Let’s brace ourselves for very difficult times ahead,” he urged while acknowledging and commending the government’s good response to the global coronavirus pandemic. “Though the pandemic is in its early days and we are taking what seems to be the right measures, there should be no room for complacency. We should hope for the best but prepare immediately for the worst.”
Dr M’membe noted that from what “we are witnessing in Italy, our very limited facilities and resources could quickly be overwhelmed by the virus’ spread”.
He also observed that Italy, which is far from having the coronavirus crisis under control, has just passed China in total deaths, even though China has 25 times its population.
“Italy’s situation is the hell the United States and United Kingdom may be facing in two to three weeks,” Dr M’membe said. “The situation can adversely change very quickly if the virus gets to Kwa [compounds] where our people are living in very crowded conditions. In these areas where there’s also poor supply of clean water and unacceptable sanitation services, transmission of the virus can be very fast. Today our country has more than 1.2 million people living with HIV and most of these live in Kwa. And some of these are suffering from tuberculosis. This makes them more vulnerable to the virus.”
He said quarantining people in crowded Kwa areas might not be easy.
Dr M’membe said older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from coronavirus illness.
He said there was currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease.
“And as the Minister of Health, Dr Chitalu Chilufya, has explained, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus,” Dr M’membe said.
He said the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Dr M’membe said those droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
“We urge all our people to follow the Ministry of Health guides and take steps to protect themselves.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing,” he said. “If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.”
Dr M’membe urged taking steps to protect others.
“Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Please, please take the instructions or advice of the Ministry of Health very, very seriously,” urged M’membe.
On Tuesday, government announced closing of all schools including colleges and universities.
Dr Chilufya said Zambia was escalating her response preparedness to include mandatory and rigorous screening and effecting 14-day quarantine of all international travellers.
“Foreign travel to high risk countries should be postponed at the same time for those who are coming to Zambia, pre-departure screening has been intensified. We are working with airlines to ensure that there is minimized risks of travelers coming into the country from high risk countries. We have also trained 580 people countrywide as rapid responders,” Dr Chilufya announced.
On Wednesday, Zambia announced its first two cases of COVID-19. On the same day, Parliament was forced to adjourned sine die.
And on Thursday, the government announced more measures and regulations to prevent coronavirus, including restricting church and other religious meetings to one hour and bars and nightclubs to maximum two hours.
“In our routine travel related disease intelligence, we have screened 29,992 travellers, with 2,258 being persons from high risk areas. Among those from the high risk areas, 460 have been cleared under 14-days quarantine and watch. We continue to investigate alerts as they arise. As of this morning, we do not have any additional cases of COVID-19,” Dr Chilufya said.
He announced the restriction of mass public gatherings, including events, conferences and meetings until further notice.
Dr Chilufya said bars and nightclubs were instructed to immediately reduce opening time to a maximum of two hours.
He said the local authorities and authorised officers would monitor compliance and revoke licenses of those not complying.
“The churches and other religious congregations will reduce the number of persons in each session and meet for a maximum of one hour. With the issuance of SIs 21 & 22 of 2020, all public places are required to ensure provision of hand washing facilities and sanitation. All public places must keep their environments clean, failure to which they risk being closed down,” said Dr Chilufya.
However, a few hours later, local government minister Charles Banda said the two-hour restrictions on bars had been withdrawn.
“I am sure what has come to you is that bars would only be opened for two hours and most of you have already been texting messages trying to find out which two hours. Apparently, after consulting and discussing with my colleague ministers, what we want to communicate is that bars will not close except what will happen is that they are going to reduce the hours of operation,” said Dr Banda. “We are not saying that they will be only opened for two hours. We are saying that they are going to reduce the hours of operations. For instance, if people used to go up to midnight we are saying by 22:00 hours, at least they should be winding up business.”