LET us not quarantine trade and collaboration, former commerce and trade minister Felix Mutati has told SADC and COMESA regional leaders locking down borders in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic which is claiming thousands of lives globally.

And Mutati says given the rising fiscal deficit, the weakening kwacha and depleted international reserves, Zambia needs the Zambia Plus strategy.

In interview, Mutati, who expressed deep regret over Zambia’s first Coronavirus-related death, said regional leaders must keep trade going.

“Let us not quarantine trade and collaboration. Because only if we keep this oxygen of trade moving, can we have a chance as countries in SADC, as countries in COMESA, and to be able to have a semblance of revival of our various economies,” Mutati said.

And Mutati said as the country’s capacity to contain the effects of a slowing down economy resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic weakens, Zambia must consider the elements contained in the Zambia Plus strategy which he mooted when he was finance minister.

“The fiscal deficit is rising, the exchange rate is weakening, our international reserves are depleted. Our capacity as Zambia to stand alone is no longer there. It is for this reason, that we need Zambia Plus. And what are these elements of Zambia Plus? There are five key elements that we must consider as a nation,” he noted.

“First, is that government must elevate its efforts in engaging not only the private sector but development partners, including the IMF, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank (AfDB) to access the resources that are already available, towards not only combating against the Coronavirus, but also the revival of the economy.”

Mutati said on Thursday, Rwanda got over US$100 million from the International Monetary Fund and he called on Zambia to accelerate efforts to access such resources.

“We must boost our engagements particularly with development institutions and other donors, to be able to access the critical medical supplies such as masks, so that we can be facilitated in not only containing this virus but also its elimination,” he said.

“It is important in our fight against this virus to be creative as a country, particularly the financial sector working with government to come up with financial packages that stimulate the private sector, government, on the other hand, brings in creative tax relief and measures that will assist the private sector to be able to move ahead and to be able to safeguard the jobs.”

Mutati said there was need for debt restructuring for poor nations hit by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“As we engage in the conversation of debt restructuring, I think what is paramount is that that conversation must be changed from restructuring to a HIPC-type relief we had before. We are only going to stretch the repayment. There must be relief particularly for poor countries including Zambia, particularly for countries mostly in Africa,” Mutati lobbied.

“If we put it this way, under the leadership of President Edgar Lungu, with these measures, we are going to turn the curve towards not only containment but also elimination. And for me the key message is very simple; that it is always possible to revive the economy, but it is impossible to revive a lost life.”

He urged Zambians to also religiously adhere to the measures put in place by the Ministry of Health to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Otherwise, there will be no Zambia tomorrow. And I do know with the help of God, nothing is insurmountable. We shall overcome this as a nation. Let’s hold together as one. This is the time to stand with government,” said Mutati.

“It is time to stand together with President Lungu to defeat a common enemy, Coronavirus. It will be defeated, come what may. God bless Zambia.”