In the wake of of two Malawian cabinet officials dying of coronavirus last week, President Lazarus Chakwera has announced new health measures to combat the spread of the virus, including lockdown, as cases have increased since the new year.
"Any person found in public without a mask will be fined," Chakwera said in a televised address on Sunday.
The law was already in place, but not enforced, according to Winston Mwale, Lilongwe-based correspondent for RFI’s Africa Calling podcast.
“On Tuesday, because of the death of these top government officials, when the president was calling it a state of national disaster, he also declared it was high time police started enforcing this law of wearing masks in all public places,” says Mwale.
Lingson Berekanyama, the Local Government Minister, and Sidik Mia, Transport Minister, both died of Covid-19 last Tuesday.
Reasoning for a Covid-19 lockdown was originally deemed insufficient by the High Court, as residents would not be able to work, and there was no government cushion to ensure they would have access to food.
Malawi’s Covid-19 task force have revised the guidelines to include school closures for three weeks, not including boarding schools.
All public buildings will need to be disinfected at least once a week, Chakwera announced, and public handwashing stations required outside the building.
"Employers must reorganise their employees to work in shifts if the work requires physical presence, and to work from home for the next three weeks if it does not," he added.
Public places where mask wearing is required will also include outdoor venues, such as markets — both the merchants and the customers will be required to wear a mask, and markets will close by 5pm.
All gatherings, including church, will be limited to 50 people.
Laxity at the top
Mwale contends that measures to curb the virus were loosened to allow campaigning during last year’s presidential and legislative races. A number of rallies were held across the country with no social distancing or mask wearing taking place.
“And these top government officials, whenever they were having cabinet meetings, none of them was putting on the mask. It’s probably only now that, because things appear to be getting out of hand, you see them putting on masks,” he says.
Mwale pointed out that US pop star Madonna was in the country earlier this year and met with Chakwera. Neither were wearing masks, and they shook hands.
The president later apologized. There was “a collective sense of relaxation in adherence to Covid prevention measures among many Malawians including myself," he said on the radio.
He has signed off on recruiting 1,380 medical personnel over the next four months and plans to obtain more testing kits, ventilators and oxygen cylinders.
Malawi's health centers will also be procuring 1,000 more hospital beds, with at least 50 designed for specialized intensive care.