Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya says schools are also public gatherings which will remained banned until further notice under SI 79.
And Zambia National Air Force (ZAF) Commander Lieutenant General Eric Chimese has asked civilians to join soldiers in cleaning up their markets.
Meanwhile, Local Government Minister Vincent Mwale has told marketeers that government will find alternative trading areas for those whose structures have been demolished permanently.
The trio was speaking when they toured markets in Lusaka, which are being cleaned up by defence forces, alongside Special Assistant for Press and Public Relations Amos Chanda on Tuesday.
Responding to a question from a journalist who wanted to know if schools would open next week, Dr Chilufya said schools were also public gatherings which remained banned until further notice.
“A school is a public gathering opportunity and the Public Health Act, Statutory Instrument that has been issued, in cholera affected areas does not allow public gatherings. So we are monitoring the evolution of the epidemic and we have engaged our colleagues in the Ministry of Education to ensure that we work together, advise them on the evolution of the epidemic, and we will need to take case by case. In the affected areas we do not expect if schools were to open today to open but like I said, in the next two weeks we will study the evolution of the epidemic and advise accordingly,” said Dr Chilufya.
“In the meantime, we have deployed school health inspectors to go and decontaminate the toilets, to ensure that the water the pupils will be using is clean and safe and our broadcasting services under Ministry of Education will now be broadcasting key messages on health promotion and how to prevent cholera. If we do not act in that manner, we will be allowing the situation where in a particular school, we will have children cross contaminating each other because other children will be coming from areas which are the epicentres of the outbreak and sharing of food, shaking hands, will be spreading the epidemic in areas where we don’t even have the case. So it is an opportunity to spread the disease so we are going to study the outbreak and we are going to keep the Ministry of Education in the loop but at the moment, SI 79 mandates or requires that public gatherings in affected areas are banned.”
And Lt Gen Chimese asked civilians to join soldiers in the clean up exercise.
“This is the lack of participation that I was talking about. The community is not owning this exercise. As you can see, they have just abandoned it to the military,” Lt Gen Chimese said when the team toured Matero market.
When it was brought to his attention that some citizens were shunning town because soldiers were forcing them to clean, Lt Gen Chimese said the allegations were false but stressed that it was important for civilians to help defence forces in the exercise.
“Their concern is that the general public is having challenges coming to town because members of the defence force are forcing them to clean? I don’t think that is true. Actually, what is on ground is that the general public, the marketeers, the street vendors are participating in the process of cleaning. They are doing it side by side with our uniformed men and women. It is only here in Matero where we have seen a different scenario where only ZNS officers are here, the soldiers who are cleaning with their officers. Otherwise, everywhere, we have been so far, there is this mutual, this is a community project and it is not about the military so the community needs to own this exercise. For us, the mission is simple and straight forward, we have to clean up as per instruction from the Commander-in-Chief and so far so good,” said Lt Gen Chimese.
“We are opening up access to the drainages which are holding much of the dirt that is leading to the situation that we have. You saw that in Lumumba and we are doing fine so far. I hope the community can own it, if the community can understand what is going on, and the fact that if we continue the way we are living, cholera will escalate.”
Meanwhile, Mwale said government would find an alternative trading space for marketeers whose structures had been demolished.
“If we find another area elsewhere, those who have had their trading areas demolished will be moved to that new place permanently. This drainage, we don’t want anyone to build on top of it anymore. This is an instruction. So write everyone’s name and give way to the army to be able to protect, they are not using force. That is why we called you so that you could hear for yourselves. This is a matter of life and death. The Minister of Health and all the ministers, they have told us where there is a problem. When the problem leaves this place, it goes to Woodlands, to Chalala, because you people handle all the food which we eat. All the food we eat has got a disease and the disease comes from here. So no compromise,” said Mwale.
And when a Matero market representative told the ministers an army commanders that the trading area had only one toilet and one water source, Mwale promised that government would ensure that more water sources were established.
He also said government would take movable toilets to the markets which marketeers would be accessing at a minimal fee.