STATE Counsel John Sangwa has urged Zambians to take responsibility to survive the coronavirus in their hands since the government has failed them.
He has insisted on declaration of a state of emergency, although it was late already to deal with the virus.
Sangwa noted Botswana and Mozambique had declared states of emergency.
He said he had been a livestock farmer for the last 30 years.
“I am not a vet and I am not a medical doctor but I know what damage a viral infection can do. I have seen it first-hand. That is where I was coming from [when I called for a declaration of State of Emergency],” he explained.
“When we take care of livestock, take chickens for example, there is one thing we always emphasis…viral security, viral security, viral security. The strategy is always to prevent the disease on your farm. That is the primary thing. We always believe prevention is better than cure because there is no cure for viral infection, by the way.”
Sangwa explained when one has a viral infection on a farm, the livestock would disappear.
He said some viral infections could claim up to 90 per cent of livestock.
“That’s how bad viral infections can be and when you have a viral infection, the only thing you have to do is simply manage because there is no cure. That is where I was coming from. Basically, I was saying declare a State of emergency and take extreme measures to prevent the entry of the disease into the country,” he explained.
“Now, this COVID-19 is an extraordinary disease for which globally, we are all learning about what it is in real-time; nobody can claim expertise. We are all learning, information and ideas about it is flowing everyday…some theories for example, we were told at some point that it’s airborne, now we are told it’s not airborne, and then at some point we were told wear masks, then we are told ‘no, it’s not necessary. Now there is data indicating that in countries where they have enforced that mask requirement there is a reduction in the rate of infection.”
Sangwa said the situation could not be contained using normal laws and institutions which were meant for normal situations.
He said the COVID-19 had presented an extraordinary situation requiring extraordinary measures.
Sangwa said when a State of Emergency is declared, some of the laws are suspended for a period.
He said now people were asking about what they should do with their workers.
“You still have to pay them because the employment Act is still in force and if you don’t pay, you don’t comply with provisions of the employment Act, it’s a crime. In the State of Emergency, you can actually pass a regulation which could override the provisions of the employment Act, and provide direction on how employers would deal with their workers in this situation,” he explained.
Sangwa noted that the private sector was taking some initiatives, which he said were useless because the law still had to be complied with.
“That’s the problem we have. I still insist that there is need, because all these controls of movement, social distancing, there is no law backing them, so breach of them has no consequences,” he said.
Sangwa said even in a state of emergency, there was need for comprehensive regulation so that individuals know their obligations.
“That is why I am saying it’s an extraordinary situation but it requires government to step in, government needs to show leadership, this is the reason why governments exist,” he said. “There is a lot that the private sector can do but they need direction from government. Because there is limit to what the private sector can do. For example, when an Indian community donating a hospital…all that is useless if government doesn’t buy in. The government needs to provide the regulatory framework to guide everybody. Those regulatory frameworks are non -existent.”
Sangwa said the coronavirus has also exposed another aspect that Zambia had no institutional capacity.
He noted that successive governments have done nothing to strengthen public institutions.
“In my view, government has been reckless and negligent in the manner in which they have handled this virus because when it was spreading, the government was busy debating Bill 10, now that is being reckless,” he said. “We had all our priorities wrong. So it was the responsibility of government to prevent the entry of the virus into the country. Government failed, government failed the people, so the responsibility is now on each and every Zambian now to protect themselves, protect their their families, and protect their homes. That’s the second level of defence. Government let us down, now the responsibility is non upon each and every Zambian to protect themselves, which means I have to protect my family, okay, now whereas as an individual I cannot stop people from coming into the country, I can stop people from coming to my home. The only thing that can save us now, since government has failed us, it is for each and every one of us to take care of our home. We can still beat this virus. As individuals we can’t control who comes to the country but we can control who comes to our homes.”
Sangwa emphasized that the government had left people down, been incompetent, reckless and irresponsible.
“But now it’s up to each and every Zambian to be responsible and control the virus by controlling the people we talk to and people we allow into our homes. Without that we all perish,” he warned.
Sangwa said he had firsthand experience with viral infections.
“You lose a thousand birds on a farm, you get sick; imagine you lose a thousand people in a day like is happening in Italy and Spain! It should not be treated as a normal situation, it requires extreme measures to be taken,” he said.
Sangwa reminded those arguing that extreme measures would destroy the economy that “the economy exist for the people not people for the economy.”
He said what was happening now was that priority was being given to the economy and not to the people.
Sangwa said an economy cannot exist independent of the people.
He said all measures countries were taking in terms of stimulus packages were designed to save the people not economies.
Sangwa said even now he does not see the reason why Zambia’s borders should still be open.
“All ports of entry should be closed and only left for essential supplies,” Sangwa said. “And there is also need for government to show leadership. There is clear lack of leadership here. There is a lot of goodwill from the private sector but the private sector needs direction.”
Sangwa said the situation was very scary because no one was safe as the disease “is not choosing”.
“The main message to the Zambian people is that government has let us down in that they were irresponsible, negligent and completely reckless with our welfare. Because you know the virus did not hit the world at once, it’s been gradual from January. Any responsible government would have taken measures by this time but we are now playing catch up. Now it’s too late, the disease is here. We need to guard our homes, safeguard our homes. We can mitigate,” said Sangwa. “So forget government, government is basically useless now, so we owe it to ourselves to survive this pandemic. Even logically, if we had closed the border, do you think those two cases from France, Pakistan would have come in? No, we were reckless.”