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Home  >  Features  >  The Coronavirus Diaries: 'I will never leave you.... or forsake you.'


The Coronavirus Diaries: 'I will never leave you.... or forsake you.'

Wednesday June 3 2020


Jenny Featherstone, the Church of Scotland's Mission Partner in Zambia highlights low death rates from the Coronavirus Covid-19 in Zambia.

After a two-year drought which saw staple food prices rising by 300%; daily electricity cuts of six to 12 hours ongoing for over a year now; and an increasing government debt which swallows a whopping 95% of GDP, you could think Zambia has been spared the ravages and pain of coronavirus that has been felt in countries like the UK.

We started restrictive measures in mid-March, when the government asked everyone to social distance and wash hands. The Minister for Finance advised the President against a total lockdown as not affordable, so schools and colleges were closed and after a bit of a blip, bars and night clubs shut too, as well as sit down restaurants and church gatherings of over 50. In April we were told that masks would be mandatory in public places, and with just seven recorded deaths to date it seems these measures have been successful.

Certainly those selling vegetables and other goods by the roadside, will have been glad there is no enforced lockdown as is the case with our neighbour Zimbabwe, for they can still earn something from their sales whilst their counterparts in Zimbabwe have to steal out under the cover of night to try and make a sale. Mask wearing also seems a bit patchy, many preferring to safeguard their chin, or just their mouth so they can breathe properly. The tailors in the market sell masks for as little as 20p so their protection may not be the best. I have not seen any street sellers wearing masks, and very few of the mobile company agents, who are so useful (and busy) in their kiosks collecting and giving out mobile money across the country.  

With just over 1,000 reported cases in 2.5 months why has Covid-19 affected us so little in Zambia? Maybe it is because many Zambians carry out their daily activities such as cooking and laundry outside and the virus is susceptible to our strong sunlight. Maybe it is because the government are vigorous in their tracing, for instance after the first reported case outside of Lusaka, the whole of Kafue town (roughly 60,000 people) was closed in for 1.5 days for tracing and testing to occur. I suspect though, some of our success is due to underreporting. Until May 9 new cases were only found in the Lusaka area, coming in dribs and drabs, just single figures. Then the government decided to test on the border with Tanzania and 162 tested positive in one day, including 30 immigration officers. Since then our graph is much like that of other infected countries, although our reported cases are still relatively low.

The whole of Southern and Western provinces have yet to record a single case of Covid-19 despite having border posts at Livingstone, Kazangula and Sesheke. From there 90% of the trucks pass through Southern Province to their destinations in Lusaka and the Copperbelt. People still travel all over the country to attend funerals and at a recent visit to Lusaka immigration on order to beat a deadline, I stood in line for two hours with up to 100 people from all over Zambia and many different countries of origin to collect my permit. Although all the applicants had masks, the immigration officers wore no masks or gloves, as they said we were protecting them.

I will be much more careful over the next couple of weeks to distance myself just in case I picked something up. However life for me is fine, I have a nice garden and the dogs, and have enjoyed Zoom and Facebook services in Scotland as well as regular contact with family and friends. I do pray however, for our many, many vulnerable people; the health service here is so fragile, and we rely on donations for PPE and other equipment, and so many do not seem to realise the deadly potential of this pandemic. However we still can know the Presence of God with us in every situation, and the words of comfort that “I will never, no never, no never leave you or forsake you.”