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Home  >  Features  >  The Coronavirus Diaries: Malawi - No Lockdown and an Election


Linus Malu in Malawi
Linus Malu in Malawi

The Coronavirus Diaries: Malawi - No Lockdown and an Election

Wednesday June 10 2020

The Church of Scotland's Mission Partner, Linus Malu, reports from Mzuzu in Malawi, where there has been no lockdown and an election is planned for early July.

Coronavirus Diaries: Elections elicit crowds, coronavirus loves crowds!.

The President of Malawi addressed the nation on March 20 and declared that the country is in a state of “national emergency”. Among other things, he closed all schools in the country till further notice. Since then the government and people of Malawi have taken varied action to contain the spread of coronavirus. The major problems are articulating purposeful and practical policies to reduce the spread of the virus, financing these policies, implementing them, and getting people to obey government directives. The first three cases were recorded on April 2 and the next day, the President addressed the country again, outlining stricter measures: limiting the number of people in public gatherings, recommending the use of masks, and encouraging people to observe social distancing.

However, the government’s plan to impose a lockdown did not materialise. After the announcement was made on April 15 many people took the streets in the major cities of Malawi, to oppose the proposed lockdown. The main argument against it is that people cannot afford to stay at home for 21 days without working. The civil society also approached the High Court and got an injunction against the lockdown. Though government has met some of the demands of those who oppose the lockdown, still, there is no lockdown in the country. The government did not even oppose the injunction in court, nor did it appeal against the decision of the High Court. Malawi is one of the few countries that did not impose a lockdown during the pandemic. This position has its well-known and acknowledged advantages and disadvantages.

In Mzuzu, there are buckets and soaps and sanitisers in front of almost all offices and shops for washing of hands, but social distancing is not being fully observed. Most commercial streets are busy and crowded with people who must go out daily to look for money. Unlike in most developed countries, most streets here don’t have pedestrian walks. So, people compete for space with bicycles, motor bikes, and cars.

The number of reported cases in Malawi as at Tuesday June 9, according to the World Health Organisation, was 443 with four deaths. There may be three reasons for this increase: the increase in the number of testing, the increase in number of local transmissions, and the increase in the number of Malawians that are returning home from other countries, mostly from South Africa.

We have managed to keep our offices open during the pandemic. We have continued to mediate cases, provide legal advice, and assist our clients to access the courts in Mzuzu. As part of our women empowerment programme, last week, we disbursed the sum of £1500 to four women who are victims of gender-based violence. We are optimistic that the loan will help them meet some of the business and personal challenges they face during the pandemic.

Following the general election in May 2019, the result of the presidential election was challenged by some contestants. In February this year the Constitutional Court nullified the election and ordered that another election be held within 150 days. Malawians will be voting again to elect a new president on July 3, 2020.  Political campaigns are taking place in cities, towns and villages. Of course, this is not the best time to organise an election. It is certainly not easy for those in government to be organising an election and managing a pandemic at the same time. Elections elicit crowds, coronavirus loves crowds! There are debates whether the election should hold in July or be postponed to a later date. But there is also optimism that it can be done in July.