Written by  Charles Chindongo

Two months ago, government announced a set of measures that it had put in place to help fight Covid-19. In our special report this week, this reporter took a walk into Limbe, a township within Blantyre City to see how authorities are ensuring that people follow regulations that have been put in place to help fight the pandemic.

Unmasked sellers and buyers in Limbe Market Unmasked sellers and buyers in Limbe Market

It is 8 O’clock in the morning. Limbe is coming to life. Farmers and traders from districts surrounding Blantyre are flocking into the town. Some of these people want to sell their produce and others want to buy goods they can sell back at home.  Simply put, Limbe is a beehive of business activity in Blantyre City.

Limbe Main Market accommodates all sorts of business people who range from small to medium enterprises– SME’s. It is not a secret that such businesses greatly contribute to the country’s economy.

MBC came across traders who are earning a living out of selling face masks. On average, traders at the market told MBC that a single medical face mask cost about 100 kwacha which is affordable by many. These are the masks people put on to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“The Coming in of Covid-19 vaccines has negatively affected my business. People are no longer purchasing facemasks as they to,” bemoaned Jimmy Makiyi who is surviving on selling facemasks in the commercial city, Blantyre  

To date, Malawi has registered over sixty thousand cases of COVID-19. More than 200 people have succumbed to pandemic. To help fight the disease, two months ago the government announced strict preventive measures to contain the spread of the disease. Government imposed partial lockdown in selected public places.

The Ministry of Justice also gazetted the mandatory use of face masks in public places. Government said it had done this as such places were regarded as hotspots of the pandemic. Markets such as Limbe fall in the category of places where people are supposed to put on face masks at all times.

But spot checks done by MBC in Limbe reveal that it is business as usual for people who ply their trade in the town. Few people can be seen wearing masks in this town. And the police, a security organ tasked with the enforcement of the COVID-19 preventive measures appear uninterested to enforce the ‘laws” in this town.

“I do not put on a face mask because I am not sick. I normally pray to God for his protection, boast” Tiyane Munthali, a Minibus Driver in the township.

The picture in Limbe and surrounding areas in Blantyre is similar to other places across the country as citizens continue to undermine protocols which are crucial in the Covid-19 fight. Recently, the World Health Organization – WHO recommended the use of a three layered medical face mask in public where social distancing seems impossible in the wake of the third wave of the global health pandemic among others. MBC also observed that most people in Limbe and other townships of the city use sub-standard face masks. The question that follows is; are the authorities aware that most people are using sub standards face masks to fight COVID-19?

As we went to the press, there was no official communication from relevant authorities on proliferation of face masks let alone drastic measures put in place to crackdown on unscrupulous traders who are taking advantage of the pandemic by producing and selling counterfeit masks.

Meanwhile, health experts in the country have since disclosed that Blantyre is one of the hotspots of the global health pandemic.

Speaking recently, in an interview with MBC Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital Director Dr. Samson Mndolo bemoaned the sheer negligence by some sections of the society in fighting COVID-19.  He was worried that some people still aren’t interested to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

“From our observation 90% of the patients we are admitting are people who did not have Covid-19 vaccines,” complained Dr Mndolo.

Currently, Malawi’s health ministry statistics indicate that half a million people have had one jab, while close to another half a million people are now fully vaccinated.

This represents 2.1% of the population. But this is just a small percent considering that Malawi’s population now hovers around 18 million people.

In September this year, government eased some of the restrictions following sharp decrease in cases in recent weeks.

“Now at Level 2, basically it means we have increased the number of gatherings. Indoors used to be 50, we are now allowing 100, outdoor it used to be 100 now we are allowing 250 people, they can gather,” announced Khumbize Chiponda Minister of Health who is also Presidential Chairperson on COVID-19.

It is reported that myths and misconceptions have rocked the mass vaccination exercise across the country. For the meantime, there is urgent need for SADC member states including Malawi to revisit their deliberate efforts to contain the spread of the disease. Reports indicate that the SADC region is still facing a low uptake of the Vaccine COVID-19 .

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