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The Coronavirus Diaries: 'All Life is Sacred'

The Coronavirus Diaries: 'All Life is Sacred'

Wednesday May 20 2020

Our latest update from Church of Scotland mission partners around the world comes from Keith Waddell, who with his wife Ida works for the United Church of Zambia.

We wait expectantly for the official Ministry of Health COVID-19 update each day in the early afternoon.

The first two cases were confirmed on March 18, a month later it had risen to 61 cases and sadly three deaths, and by May 19 there were 761 cases and seven deaths. These include truck drivers, travellers, health workers, customs and immigration staff, community members and case contacts.

The comparatively low statistics suggest under-reporting, as symptoms may not be recognised and the cause of death recorded as a related illness. No work on excess deaths has yet been done. Only six per cent of Zambians are over 55 and the coronavirus disproportionately affects the elderly, so we may still be in the early stages.

There is targeted community screening in hotspots by rapid response teams. Screening and testing are being devolved to provincial level, as Zambia has no capacity to do mass screening yet. With around 10% of cases front-line workers, the need for PPE is clearly demonstrated.

Ida has applied to various churches and trusts for funds to supply our frontline workers with PPE. The generous response from partners means the first batch has been procured and is now being delivered to health institutions, which is a great relief.

Njase Clinic has been designated the Isolation Centre for Choma District, and UCZ Mwenzo Girls School is serving as a Quarantine Centre for Nakonde, which is a border hotspot. This will provide a number of logistical challenges when schools are opened.

Nationwide, a soft lockdown is in place; last Friday, the President reopened gyms, cinemas, restaurants and casinos. Pupils in examination classes will return to school on June 1. Enhanced hygiene facilities are expected to ensure public safety in the context of the ‘new normal’. These measures are to be reviewed weekly. There are fears this means the acceptance of the virus as endemic, something you just have to live with, like ebola in DR Congo.

Politically, there is quite a debate going on between the economy and public health, so street-markets, where we buy our fruit and vegetables, remain open as most of the women running them have a very hand-to-mouth existence and need the money they make each day to feed the family. Social distancing measures are applied, with rudimentary hand washing and hand sanitising facilities. Supermarkets check your temperature before you enter their premises and you wash hands too, but then, ironically, you disinfect the trolley yourself with your own wipes and there are no hand washing facilities on exiting so again we keep our own bottle of hand-sanitiser for this. The wearing of facemasks in public and on public transport is now mandatory.

The United Church of Zambia (UCZ) and Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) now have most employees working remotely from home, with a skeleton staff at HQ. Church services are broadcast on radio, television and all types of social media. We enjoy keeping up with the Church by internet, both in Zambia and Scotland. Offerings through mobile money and on-line banking keep the Church afloat financially. There is a gradual move, preparing the Church for small group gatherings under 50 outside, with hygiene measures and social distancing and engaging with authorities to receive the proper certification after inspection. This is to meet the demand from mainly rural congregations to safely congregate as they are not well connected to the media.

We are doing our jobs in new ways, remotely from Mwandi Mission. Both of us as well as our children, Mubita and Ellie, have been here in self-isolation for seven weeks.  We are helping however we can, driving to nearby Livingstone every three weeks to buy supplies for the hospital and community members. Ida is called to the hospital from time to time for emergencies as there is still no doctor. Being on the border with Namibia, there is much intermarriage and to-ing and fro-ing. We have one Covid-19 suspect who came over the border, in quarantine in hospital at the moment. We pray it comes to nothing. The test sample is now in Lusaka and we await the result.

We tend to do our office work and the children do schoolwork in the morning. Mid-afternoon, we turn to housework and the garden. Any outstanding work we tackle once the children are in bed. We have planted a vegetable patch and put in bananas, more pawpaws, an avocado tree and lavender at the front of the house to repel mosquitoes, as fresh fruit and vegetables will become harder to find, and we can share with the old folk at Kandiana and our other neighbours.

All life is sacred, and we have a life-affirming obligation to offer ourselves and to witness to love of God wherever we find ourselves and to those whom God has entrusted to our care – even more so during this new normalcy.

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