INSTITUTE of Risk Management Zambia (IRMZA) executive director Francis Ziba says there’s no data driven evidence at the moment to suggest that Zambia needs a complete lockdown as a result of the novel Coronavirus.

And Ziba says the best the country can do at the moment is practice preventive measures already in place, adding that any discussion on shutting down the country without data driven evidence is premature.

Meanwhile, Ziba says there’s need for the government to conduct more tests to help determine transmission levels and contact tracing of the virus.

Earlier this week, former Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande said Zambia should have a lockdown as quickly as possible to preserve lives.

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

On March 25, President Edgar Lungu announced a number of measures effective midnight, Thursday March 26.

Among the measures announced were the suspension of non-essential international travel; limiting all public gatherings to a maximum of 50 people; all restaurants to operate on a take-away and delivery basis; closure of all bars, night clubs, cinemas, gyms and casinos.

But in an interview with News Diggers!, Ziba said in as much as his organisation welcomed the current measures taken, they felt such decisions and policies needed to be informed by evidence-based research that was data driven.

He added that the data collected so far from the number of tests conducted in Zambia was utterly limited and unreliable to inform such decisions.

“We expect our government to make policy decisions based on data-driven evidence but on this occasion, we do feel there isn’t sufficient evidence to support such a decision. As of today (Wednesday), only 542 tests have been conducted in Zambia since the outbreak of the pandemic from which 36 have tested positive with no fatalities and with 65 cases suspected as positive. Key to these statistics are the nine positive cases who contracted the virus through local transmissions. The correlation of this statistic to the number of infections remains key as to how we fight the pandemic,” Ziba said.

“There is need for government to conduct more tests so that we can collect enough data that would help influence the type of modeling we do in terms of knowing the relative percentages of asymptomatic (who don’t show symptoms) infections. These results would help us determine transmission levels, contact tracing as well the dynanometer of any model to help build the artificial intelligence behind the virus.”

He said by using data analytic skills, the data collected could also be used to conduct surveillance of people confirmed to have COVID-19, adding that government could also use that data to alert the population of locations to avoid.

Ziba further said Zambia didn’t need a complete lockdown, adding that any discussion about shutting down the country without data driven evidence at this moment was “pretty much premature”.

“At the moment, there is no data driven evidence to suggest that Zambia needs a complete lockdown. Zambia does not need a lockdown. The reason we are saying that is because for any decisions to be made, it’s important to apply data analytics so that we compare what other countries are doing. Therefore, it’s imperative that we collect enough data through tests and compare it with data from other African countries with the same demographic setup such as Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, looking at comparable data from other countries such South Korea and Italy who have run completely different models and strategies in combating the virus,” he said.

“This data would help provide approximate random population sampling as these countries have at least managed to collect sizeable segments of the population in terms of the infection rate. Any discussion about shutting down the country without data driven evidence at this moment is pretty much premature. Unless we get credible data from the Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) and do a proper data analysis and risk assessment, we might just find ourselves back to square one after the 14 days partial lockdown with no data to back our decisions and wondering where to go next.”

He added that what the government needed to do was to focus on inter-town movements and curtail movements to areas like Lusaka where the virus seemed prevalent to be able to track and contain it.

“The best the country can do is to practice the prevention measures which are already in place. A lot of social distancing needs to happen. We need to keep focus on inter-town movements. I think this is where government needs to focus on so that we contain Lusaka where the virus seems to be prevalent, [and] we contain areas like Luanshya. We can even lock out certain provinces for instance, to say ‘let’s curtail movements to these areas’. That way, it will help us collect the data that we need to say for instance, if this area is locked, it will help us determine which demographic is most affected and where we need to focus our energies,” Ziba said.

He said from the current data obtained from the World Health Organization, most of the fatalities happening as a result of the Coronavirus on the global scale were to do with the aged people and those with underlying health conditions.

“The current data obtaining from the World Health Organization seems to suggest that the median age of fatalities is 80 years. Over 50 per cent of those dying are aged between 80 and 89, 30 per cent account for those between 70 and 79 and just under 20 per cent accounting for those under 69 years of age. The other significant detail from this data is that close to 80 per cent of all fatalities globally had one or two underlying health conditions such as heart diseases, cancer, HIV, tuberculosis and diabetes. This evidence also creates uncertainty about the risk of dying from COVID-19 especially for those patients who might not have any underlying health conditions,” Ziba said.

“The current aggregated global fatality rate for COVID-19 stands at under three per cent. In the sub-Saharan Africa, the fatality ranges between 0.08 per cent and one percent which, when compared to the number of people dying from other diseases in Zambia such as malaria, HIV or even the seasonal flu, is extremely low. If these statistics were to continue for Africa, it could mean that declaring a complete lockdown of a country with potentially huge social and financial consequences is totally irrational.”

He said in virus economics, a lockdown would mean a complete shutdown of movement with an exception of essential goods and services.

“And the result would be the folding of many Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), including a few bigger firms and a huge spike in the unemployment rate. More importantly, the cost of such a decision would be impossible to quantify and the resulting impact on an already weak economy could take decades of years to recover from,” said Ziba.