GABORONE, Botswana, April 2020/ — Months into the COVID-19 pandemic that grips the world, many countries and regions are struggling to contain local outbreaks of the deadly corona virus that causes the disease. As world leaders grapple and struggle to control the coronavirus pandemic which leads to the COVID-19 disease, authorities here in the SADC region must find a way to manage not only the health implications but also the economic impact of measures they take. The greatest concern in the region is that the spread could swipe the ailing economy of the region hence vigorous attempt by the region to fight the virus. Heads of states in the region have since adopted the lockdown approach. Botswana confirmed her lockdown for 28 days, effective 2nd – 28th April in what the President, Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi termed as “extreme social distancing”.
The ‘social distancing’ approach was also identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the effective measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The media being in the frontline of the COVID-19 too, we recently spoke to a few media colleagues from across the SADC region to find out what measures their governments have put in place to respond effectively to COVID-19, writes MOAGI MADISA…
Malungelo Booi, Senior Reporter at Newzroom Africa – South Africa
“Some people have responded well to the lockdown and are adhering to the regulations in place. However, in some parts of the country it seems people still don’t understand that we are facing a pandemic. That it’s not business as usual. And it’s in those areas where at times you find soldiers and police enforcing the lockdown regulations. There are a number of reasons why some people don’t adhere to the regulations including social distancing, this is particularly difficult in over populated informal settlements. I don’t think the lockdown was an easy decision to take including its extension with two more weeks. No lockdown can be good for any economy in the world, but government had to take a decision in order to safe guard citizens from the pandemic. Already there are indications that had the country not implemented the lockdown sooner, Covid-19 cases in South Africa could even be higher.”
Faith Zaba, Editor of Zimbabwe Independent – Zimbabwe
“It came when there were already calls from the media, medical fraternity and civil society to lockdown in order to contain the spread of the disease. The fear was that if it broke out in Zimbabwe where the health delivery system is literally in comatose, the death toll would be very high, even as high as what we seeing in Italy. President Emmerson Mnangagwa must be commended for acting swiftly when the country recorded its first cases and enforcing the lockdown when the numbers were still very low. However the lockdown in Zimbabwe is a double-edged sword in that while it helps to contain the pandemic it has been a major obstacle for business and particularly the informal sector most of whom need to trade on a daily basis to feed their families. It has been worsened by the need for citizens to buy basic commodities which are in short supply especially subsidized maize meal resulting in long queues with no observation for social distancing. It was introduced at the right time but with devastating consequences to both formal and informal sectors of the economy. However the government did not give citizens adequate time to stock basic foodstuffs and it also came at time when many companies had not paid their workers. The government did to also offer safety nets for the vulnerable members of society. Remember in Zimbabwe more than 4 million people are in urgent need of food aid. Now it is a scramble for daily survival. Some, mainly informal traders have been forced to disregard the lockdown as it has resulted in a situation where they don’t have any income to survive. However, most have stayed indoors. This is because of a combination of two things, genuine fear of contracting the virus in a country where the death toll is one of the highest at around 22% and also it is due to the enforcement of the lockdown by security agencies. Other criticism is government relaxing some of the terms allowing the vegetable markets to open for at least 3 hours daily and allowing citizens to receive remittances from the diaspora. This can render the lockdown infective. Zimbabwe needs a complete lockdown, if we are contain the spread of the disease. I also believe that the figures could be higher than what is being reported because of the under testing and centralized testing labs located in Harare. Zimbabwe has done just 547 tests in total by April 13th.”
Rebafiloe Monnapula, Radio host at The Ultimate Radio -Lesotho
“In Lesotho the lockdown is still continuing. Basotho did observe the lockdown and did stay home as it was expected. At the beginning of the lockdown and on some days, especially in big towns, people were still seen in large numbers but mostly during shopping hours. Security forces were seen in towns and villages to ensure that people do stay at home. Basotho do understand the importance of the lockdown as Lesotho is landlocked by South Africa and so far South Africa is one of the African countries that has been hard hit by Covid-19. It is clear that with the lockdown still in place and all borders into South Africa closed, Lesotho has a high chance of staying Covid-19 free. That’s if when more tests are conducted no one will test positive to Covid-19. The only frustration people have regarding the lockdown is the impact it will have on their businesses, education and the overall economy. I believe that this lockdown was introduced at the right time before we could have lots of people coming into the country from South Africa and thus putting Basotho at a high risk of being infected, still with the hope that after more tests are done no one will test positive to Covid-19.”
Michael Kaluba, News Reporter at Phoenix FM – Zambia
“Zambia is a landlocked nation and as such totally depends on its neighbouring nations to gain access to strategic resources as well as conduct inflow and outflow of trade. Cabinet chaired by President Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu debated a total lockdown with the President reminding the nation that Zambia was already locked by virtue of been a land locked country. Several stakeholders including opposition political parties, the civil society and Non-governmental organizations have called for a declaration of a state of emergency and a total lock down of the nation which has so far recorded 45 cases, 2 deaths and 30 recoveries of the total number. As the media and part of the people operating in the face of the pandemic every day by reporting on covid-19 matters, we have hope that the global community will overcome this pandemic and that life would revert to normal. SADC should work collectively to ensure safe passage of essential goods while protecting essential operators and the general citizenry.
Jacob Onyango, editor at TUKO Media – Kenya
“My position is that lockdown was necessary to curb spread of the virus, China was able to contain the virus spread after total lockdown of Wuhan, the first epicentre of the disease. In Kenya, we were a bit late to suspend international flights and as a result the virus was imported into the country. The same was the cases in several other African countries which were hesitant to consider a total lockdown”
Albertina Nakale, Senior journalist at New Era newspaper – Namibia
“The lockdown is going well in Namibia, shops that offer essential like food and medicine are open and also the hospital and pharmacies. There was an issue of expectant mothers where it was difficult for them to access health facilities. Other than that, there are those naughty one who would sneak alcohol on black market and they are charged accordingly. With regard to schools government has done electronic schooling for now. Life looks normal as also there are economic stimulus. There has been debate of lockdown extension after the elapse of 21 days. The numbers in Namibia hasn’t grown much so we remain hopeful as a country and I must applaud the government for their decisive measures to lockdown the country “
Roy Nkosi, photojournalist at Malawi News Agency – Malawi
“In Malawi there’s is no lockdown, in fact the restrictions imposed are not really being enforced. Lockdown or strict restrictions will be difficult to implement as the majority of the population is on hand to mouth, so shutting them down means you have to provide for which cannot happen based on the economic instability of Malawi.”