Tourism Minister Ronald Chitotela says President Edgar Lungu has shown commitment in the quest to find solutions to the COVID-19 outbreak as he sometimes privately leaves State House to drive around the city in order to understand what’s going on.
And Chitotela has wondered whether those calling for a lockdown think COVID-19 will magically end afterwards.
Meanwhile, Chitotela says Zambia will lose about US$420 million in revenue and about 300,000 jobs in the tourism sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic if the status quo remains the same by December, 2020.
Speaking on Hot FM’s breakfast show, Wednesday, Chitotela said President Lungu would not succumb to knee jerk reactions.
“I want to assure you that President Lungu is committed and more so, he is the President of Zambia, elected by the Zambia people. There is no President who would want the worst for his citizens, he is doing everything possible. I can tell you, sometimes he calls for a meeting at very awkward times; he phones people, he wants things done, he is monitoring. Sometimes he even gets out of State House privately driving around to observe what is happening in Lusaka; what is happening among the Zambian citizens. So, that when he is making a decision, these are decisions that are evidence based, not knee jerk decisions. The President will not succumb to knee jerk reactions; the President will make evidence based decisions, so that tomorrow we must be able to say thank you Mr President you have been able to take us to though COVID-19. We shall tell this wonderful story to our grand children,” Chitotela said.
And Chitotela said government had learnt from other countries in the region that a complete lock down was not a solution in Africa.
“I have heard a number of statements where people both domestically and internationally called for a complete lock down of the economy. The challenge we may face is that there are people who are saying lock down the economy for two weeks and the after two weeks the COVID-19 will finish? Chitotela asked.
“In the case like Zambia, one week or one month and we have learnt a good example from our friends those who attempted to go that route of complete lockdown, South Africa is the best example, they tried and it became impossible! How do you lockdown somebody for two weeks or 21 days who lives in Tembisa in South Africa in a two roomed [house] with nine children? How do you lock down an economy in Zambia, for a Zambian who lives in our unplanned settlements with a two roomed and he has 11 children? We need also to understand what does a complete lock down mean?”
He insisted that a lockdown was not the solution.
“Our friends in Malawi tried; in South Africa they ended up saying we are allowing essential movements after it became impossible; because when you lockdown completely, when the people fall sick, how do they get to the hospital.?My father used to say if you can’t think about your friends’ problems, then you are not worth living because if you say complete lockdown even for two weeks; If you can manage a bag of mealie meal even for two weeks, don’t think you neighbor can manage. There are people in Zambia who depend on the daily bread; there are people who don’t even have the capital. If you go to the market you find people waking up in the morning from Chawama going to city market waiting for trucks from Chibombo with tomatoes and cabbages, get and sell for the farmer and make a profit,” Chitotela said.
“We know that COVID-19 is deadly and there are preventive measures that we have been told by the experts. We need then to apply them. We need to balance between health and economic activities of the nation. We need to learn from our friends in the region and globally who attempted to do that and whether it has succeeded or not. South Africa had a 100 percent lock down; today South Africa has the highest number of the COVID-19 patients on the African continent. Has the lockdown been the answer to the fight against COVID-19 in South Africa? The answer is no!”
He said Kenneth Kaunda Airport was still open because there were still some Zambians in the diaspora who wanted to return home.
“Why the KK airport was left we have Zambians who have been caught up from this web and who would want to come to the country. By the way, we have been completely locked out; we only have one airline that is flying into Zambia, which is Ethiopian Airlines, which is bringing your brothers and sister who would want to return and who feel it’s not safe because the rate of COVID-19 in the US is very high; bringing your brothers and sisters in Europe who could have been locked out on their business trips; who could have not managed to stay longer than they planned. Now if we had closed, how do you think your brother and sisters who were outside Zambia how could have they survived?” Chitotela wondered.
Meanwhile, Chitotela said the country would lose about $420 million in revenue.
“We have now done a cumulative figure of up to December because the $6.9 million by April was just looking at the lodges in the national parks and the tourists that had booked to come to Zambia up to 4th April. In working with ZTA and all the stakeholders because at the time we’re coming up with those figures, Intercontinental was not shut; Southern Sun was not closed. So we sat with the stakeholders both in consumptive and non consumptive tourism and looked at how we supposed to receive the income both in the consumptive and non consumptive you will be shocked to hear that now the figure is $420 million. That is the money that is if we don’t recover by first December 2020, Zambia will lose that money,” said Chitotela.
“Domestically, we are looking at over 300,000 jobs being threatened. When I speak about domestically, I am talking about Zambia. Globally, we are looking at over 200 million jobs that are being threatened because we had an expert analysis from IAETA (International Association of Educational Travel Agents) where we were given an example of what happened in the US after the 911; that there was a general stigma towards flying and aviation business in the USA. If you check the expert analysis, the greatest agent of COVID-19 globally is through the aviation business. So they are saying that the airports are being seen as not the safest transit points and off course the aeroplanes because of the compressed Oxygen when you are flying. The fear in the travel and tourism sector is that we hope that this will not create a stigma among the populace of this earth even after COVID-19 as we saw during the 911 incident in the USA. The challenge if it gets to that level we will see a reduction number of international tourists travelling because no tourists would want to risk flying.”