Zambia Cabinet debates total lockdown

By News Diggers

Zambia Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya has suggested a total lockdown in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 but President Edgar Lungu says the country cannot afford a total lockdown because the country is already landlocked.

And Finance Minister Dr Bwalya Ngandu says he does not have money to buy food for people in an event of a lockdown. 

During a special Cabinet meeting, Thursday, a lockdown was debated. 

Dr Chilufya proposed a total lockdown but the Finance Minister objected saying it would pose a serious problem for the economy as there would be no opportunities for resources coming from elsewhere.

“I was listening very carefully to the submissions around the table. Clearly, already without a total lockdown, we are beginning to see the negative impact on the economy. We are beginning to see a reduction in terms of value-added tax that is coming through, customs duty that is coming through and also in terms of the revenue. So basically, the economy is beginning to slow down and the resource basket is beginning to constrict…So a total lockdown will basically shut all opportunity for resources coming from somewhere,” Dr Ng’andu said.

Dr Ng’andu also said he didn’t have resources to buy food to feed people in their houses once a lockdown was implemented.

“From where I am, my own means are limited. I’m trying to put together some measures to opulent the budget that has been approved as part of the continuous measures. Part of that will come from our resources which I think we will be able to put together and part of it will come from donor support. But I can clearly say without hesitation that we if we have a total lockdown of this economy, we will have a serious problem because I don’t have the resources to, for example, to buy food. Because if you lock down the country, people are not moving, those of us who have fridges and so on can afford to [stock up] but for the ordinary person, we will have to find some means by which we will be taking food to these people,” Dr Ng’andu said.

Dr Chilufya then requested to resubmit the proposal, saying he used the wrong terminology.

He said he was not suggesting a shutdown of everything but clarified that essential services like buying and selling of food would be allowed.

“I would like to resubmit and make some corrections. The word lockdown, I can clearly hear from the feedback, has been misunderstood. The word lockdown, we are not talking about the shutdown of everything. I should put it correctly by saying I have used the wrong terminology. Essential services continue which include buying and selling of food. Because if people don’t eat, then their health is harmed. So what is now put in place are measures. Things like buying food and selling food, medical services and security (police and army) that is preserved,” Dr Chilufya said.

“What is discouraged is where people engage in non-essential travel, non-essential work. For instance, if you are not going to buy a bag of mealie meal, food, you are not going to seek treatment, stay home. It limits the possibility of contact with someone who has a virus.”

Vice-President Inonge Wina then said ministers needed to understand that the President would need to invoke certain Acts which allowed certain measures to be taken so that he would be covered if, for example, he allowed the army to go on the streets.

“At the last council meeting of ministers, I think it was agreed that the measures that will be announced by the President or the line ministry that we have been given permission to do so, should be done in phases so that we observe the situation as we implement a few measures and see how these measures are impacting on the population. For example, we have started with the issue of young children in schools and universities. We closed universities and we have seen how this is working out. And I’m sure the Ministry of Education is also developing other measures to take care of these children who are with parents at home and to see how the parents can be assisted to ensure that the children are kept in order,” she said.

“Then only yesterday or the day before, His Excellency announced measures on closing bars, restaurants and others. Honourable ministers should also be aware that some of the measures that we ask the President to take in may need to invoke certain acts, for instance, the Disaster Management Act which allows certain measures to be taken will cover the President when for example orders the military to be on the streets and other measures that can be taken in that regard.”

And President Lungu argued that Zambia could not afford a total lockdown for now as the country was already landlocked.

“What we are saying for now is that we cannot do a total lockdown. But we will manage within what we have proclaimed. Zambia is landlocked. If you ask the Minister of Transport, we have trucks marooned in Mozambique with fuel supply and other supply [destined] for Zambia,” said President Lungu. 

President Lungu emphasised continued wider and rapid testing and isolation of suspected cases of Coronavirus; immediate operationalizing of the COVID-19 Contingency Plan Budget to fight COVID-19; escalating and broadening contact tracing as well as a fast-tracking effective treatment for everyone in need through sufficient oxygen supply and stable electricity supply to health institutions, among others. 

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