CHIEF Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya says government is reviewing an initiative where landlords can relieve tenants of rental obligations in light of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking on Power FM’s special programme, Monday, Siliya said there were discussions going on between the ministries of Commerce and Finance to encourage landlords and landladies to provide tenants with relief amid the COVID-19 effects on the economy.

“Government is responding to Coronavirus from a multi-sectoral perspective: the health issues, Ministry of Health; the transport issues, the Ministry of Transport; the labour issues, Ministry of Labour, together with Ministry of Finance; the business issues, Ministry of Commerce and Trade. I, as Government Spokesperson, can only tell you what all of us in Cabinet, all the Ministers in Cabinet are saying and I know there is a discussion going on between the Minister of Commerce and Trade, Honourable [Christopher] Yaluma, the Minister of Labour [Joyce Nonde-Simukoko], the Minister of Finance [Dr Bwalya Ng’andu], on what relief government can try to encourage in terms of the private sector so that the private sector and the landlords can probably give some relief to tenants. This is a live discussion and I think we should wait for them. I think we all know that businesses are suffering and for those businesses that have closed and have to pay rent, again it is an issue that we must look at,” Siliya disclosed.

“Now, government took an initiative and said that, ‘look, let us protect ourselves as a country; all non-essential workers must go home, only essential workers should work so that we reduce the risk, even for business’. The message is the same: don’t wait for government to tell you to shut down. Let us use the rule of thumb to protect all of us. You can’t be wanting to make much during risky times that in the end you even put your workers at risk. If you have to close your business because it is not essential or at least send the non-essential workers home, please do that, do not wait for government to shut down. Landlords, we can only appeal to them that ‘let us use the rule of thumb that if a business is closed, how will it be able to pay rent?’ This is the time for everybody to rise to the occasion and say, ‘what can I do for mother Zambia for a change? How patriotic should I be?’ ”

When asked what deliberate measures government had put in place to ensure that consumers were not being exploited, the minister condemned those who had taken advantage of the situation to cash in through the inflation of prices of hand sanitiser.

“I have been on the phone with Honourable Yaluma that he needs to keep on engaging the private sector, that this is the time to be patriotic and work with the Zambians. If any anybody wants to do a quick cash in now, there might be no business after this if the Zambian people cannot afford to protect themselves. The business people who are abusing people…and I know prices, I have heard, went from K30 to K200 for sanitizers, that is wrong! And government condemns it and we hope that as more supplies come in the country, the prices will go back to normal,” Siliya said.

And when asked why bar owners were not allowed to operate on a take-way basis, she said she understood that businesses struggled, but that they could also be lost if the pandemic persisted.

“I know businesses, especially ayanono, I know that you are suffering. Even me, personally, I have closed my own restaurant and I have workers. So, ninjishiba kuti abantu abengi naba tina ati kuli Corona, but family yandi yalalya shani so ndeumfwa efyo mulelanda (I know that a lot of people are aware that there is Coronavirus, but are asking themselves ‘how they will fend for their families’? I have heard all the cries). But if we don’t take care today, nayo ine business mulelanadapo tamwakakwate because imwe kuti mwalanda ati mwalaba clean but mwala kwata ama workers eko balefuma tamwishibe bwino, ebo bale kumana nabo tamwishibe bwino, ebakamiletela Corona in your bar (Even that business you are talking about may not be there tomorrow because you can say you are clean, but you will never know where your workers are coming from or who they are meeting. They are the ones who can bring Coronavirus for you),” Siliya said.

“Elo abantu abaleisa mu bar mukushita ubwalwa baishiba kuti ni bar teti mubebe ati fumeni, bakulaisa nokunwa mulya mu bar. Balya abalenwa ubwalwa bakakwata bad nutrition, that is why tuletina ati nga banwa ubwalwa balafwa. (And the people coming to buy beer from your bars would want to drink from there, you can’t chase them. And also those people drinking, who take alcohol, usually have bad nutrition habits so we are scared that if they continue drinking, they can die).”

And Siliya advised that all wedding ceremonies should be cancelled to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus.

“I think the rule of thumb is that at this point, any gathering is a danger; any person you are next to, you don’t know if they have Coronavirus or they don’t have so the best is to avoid gatherings at all cost. It was said that any gathering of at least 50 people had to get direction from Ministry of Health under the Statutory Instrument No 21 and 22, which governs public health during a period such as this when we have the pandemic. The rule of thumb is ask yourself: do you want to be in a gathering of 50 people at this point of time, increasing the chances of Coronavirus? My advice would be if you have a wedding, maybe it’s time to cancel. If you have a funeral, it’s important that few people participate,” she advised.

When asked the way forward after the 14-day observation period, Siliya said the government would wait on the advice from the Ministry of Health.

“The government response to Coronavirus is on a scalable plan. We have to make decisions based on evidence. And at the end of this 14 days, clearly, government will be looking at the risk the country is facing; we will be looking at the compliance levels and the Minister of Health (Dr Chitalu Chilufya) is busy doing a lot of testing and it is that evidence that will decide on what should happen when the 14 days is over,” Siliya said.

She also stressed that a total lockdown was not possible.

“A lockdown may take many forms: it can be an extreme lockdown where we say, ‘there is a curfew, you cannot come out of your house, everybody must stay in their house.’ It means that shops will close, everything closes, except hospitals and the police. Everything must shut down. The doctors are telling us that to have a reasonable shutdown, you need at least a minimum of 14 days, but for it to be effective, you need at least 30 days so you have two cycles for when the disease is in incubation to avoid spreading. So, imagine an extreme shutdown, so people stay at home for one month; are you telling me that in our situation in Zambia, it will be possible for people who buy mealie meal for a day to stay at home without food for one month? So, we have to be realistic, we can’t do copy and paste. Even in big countries like America, it is difficult to do an extreme lockdown,” argued Siliya.

“There is another form that we get everybody to be at home, but we just leave shops, hospitals and security and we put in measures that, family, each of you only come once a week. All these people under the bridge, the street vendors, marketeers, they make a K70 today, that is what they use for that day. So, we have to ask ‘what can work for our people in Zambia?’”