UPND chairman for economic affairs Situmbeko Musokotwane says there is no other option but to effect a lockdown in Zambia to contain the spread of Covid-19 because experts have already advised that taking a gradual approach to this crisis is catastrophic.

Musokotwane has further urged government to come up with a comprehensive plan on how to sustain businesses and individuals who might become economic victims of a lockdown.

Addressing a press briefing in Lusaka, Sunday, Musokotwane who is also a former finance minister said a lockdown amidst the coronavirus pandemic was inevitable despite the negative economic effects that would come with that.

“There is no debate on whether we should take the gradual approach or we should take a lockdown. As far as the medical experts are concerned, the only sensible thing to do is to introduce a lockdown. If you talk to doctors here or listen to what other experts across the world are saying; they are saying if you do a gradual approach, you are just delaying the day of reckoning. So you might as well just do the lockdown from the very beginning. The debate of whether you do gradual or a lockdown is more of an economic debate than a health debate because health experts know what to do. So here is the thing, those who saying we should do gradual are scared of a lockdown because with a lockdown, the economy is going to be brought to its knees. If you close shopping malls, basically you are stopping people from transacting. If you close factories because you want to stop people from moving, it means production is stopping and the economy is slowing down…so the gradual approach is an attempt to contain the virus while at the same time making the economy move forward,” Musokotwane said.

“But the experience that we’ve seen so far around the world shows that this gradual approach is not working. Eventually when things are overblown, you will still be forced to do a lockdown and therefore you’ve actually delayed the process of shutting down the economy maybe for a period of two or three weeks, hopefully within that time the atmosphere would be okay and you resume once again. Of course those who are scared of the lockdown have a lockdown because a lockdown means totally shutting down the economy and livelihoods would be affected because of that. A lockdown, while it is desirable to effect, it a very difficult thing to do. But for us as UPND, taking into account the health and economic issues feel that a lockdown is inevitable. If we don’t do it within the next few weeks, these numbers that have risen from two to over 20 will very quickly swell. Already our hospitals have been overwhelmed even before the coronavirus. Our health system is failing to cope just with ordinary diseases, what more if we allow this thing to get out of hand? It will be a disaster.”

And Musokotwane said government must come up with a plan on how to sustain businesses and other people that might be affected as a result of a total lockdown.

“Now, wherever you are going to do a lockdown, there will be economic casualties. Companies will be told to shut production and send workers home. After coronavirus is gone, how does the state intend to respond to those victims of a lockdown? How do we assist them? So we would like to urge the government to have a comprehensive plan of how the victims of a lockdown wherever it’s going to be instituted, how those people are going to be taken care. If there are people who are vulnerable because they will not be able to have enough food during the period of a lockdown, there must be a plan available on how these people will be supported,” he said.

Musokotwane asked government to further explain where it would get the money to support victims of coronavirus seeing that the state was broke at the moment.

“If we are talking about a lockdown and support to the vulnerable that may be affected by the lockdown, where does the money for that come from? As you all know our government is broke. So if you are going to have this financial package for the victims, you can only do it by either cutting salaries of some government workers or defaulting on some loans. And our government today will find it very hard to borrow anywhere in the financial market place because they are already over borrowed. So the only option remaining now is for government to take advantage of the announcement by the World Bank, IMF and African Development Bank that they are putting together a package for lending to poor countries like ours so that we can deal with issues of looking after corona patients and also stopping the virus from spreading out through the lockdowns. So the government is urged to very swiftly get in discussions the World Bank, IMF, the African Development Bank and the Chinese government itself to see how we can be supported,” he said.

And Musokotwane said money being spent on by-elections and that which was being invested in the national airline should be channeled to fighting coronavirus.

“We cannot depend 100 per cent on foreigners, this disease has come to us, so we must also show commitment by changing the way we do things so that we save some money to put on top of what the international community is giving us. How do we do that? It can only come from being more prudent. For example, we can stop all these by-elections taking place in the country because some of these by-elections are actually induced. Councilors are persuaded in various ways to resign so that we have by-elections. So as UPND, we hope that the government will reflect very deeply on its practices of inducing by-elections so that we save the money to deal with calamity that has befallen us,” said Musokotwane.

“I also believe that at this time the investment that the government is making into the Airline, which everybody knows is going to fail, this coronavirus has just added another dimension of the difficulties that Airlines are going to face. People are not traveling. Surely, does that [Airline relaunch] still remain a priority or we should just forget about it and channel the money towards a more important course of stopping the coronavirus? We also believe some of the asserts that the government acquired over this period, more especially the Presidential Jet at more than USD $60 million. Here we are today failing to protect our people when. So let’s not just depend on what foreigners are promising us because we don’t even know how long it will take for that money to arrive in the country and stop the virus. We should also take strategic measures to ensure that we release resources so that we can deal with our problems in the country.”

Speaking at the same briefing, New Labour party leader Fresher Siwale alleged that Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya’s actions against Prime TV were aimed at promoting Diamond TV where she had vested interests.

“The main problem that has arisen as a result of this Covid-19 is the failure by government to recognize the role of the media and as such, we have seen government attacking one media institution in the name of Prime TV. The story behind this attack on Prime TV arises from a statement issued by Mr Gerald Shawa on behalf of the Zambia Independent Broadcasters Association (ZIBA). Mr Shawa as president of ZIBA. But government has decided to negate the fact that it was a ZIBA statement and taken it as if it was Gerald Shawa speaking as Prime TV proprietor. The other issue is that the Minister of information, in dealing with Prime TV has not declared interest. The minister is an interested party because she has interest in another media organization namely Diamond TV. Let her declare interest because we see the minister’s actions against Prime TV as only a means to promote another media organization in which she has interest. Her hands are not clean,” said Siwale.