PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu has announced that Zambia recorded eight new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, four of which are health workers.

President Lungu has, however, decided to reopen churches with a condition that they adhere to prevention measures like social distancing and wearing of masks.

President Lungu has also reopened barbershops and salons while allowing golfing activities.

Meanwhile, during his address today, the Head of State said food security would be the biggest problem post COVID-19.

He has since directed chain stores to source all agricultural products from local farmers.

“Following expiry of the 14 day extension period of restrictions and other control measures, I announced in my last address to the nation; I now update the nation on the current position. As of today, 24th April 2020, eight additional cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Zambia; four of the cases are from the community while the other four are hospital personnel. The cumulative number of cases in Zambia is now, 84, including three deaths. 37 patients have recovered from the infection and 44 patients remain under isolation but all are in stable condition, except for one patient being treated for severe malaria. 15 healthcare workers have so far been infected with COVID-19 while in their line of duty. Two have recovered while 13 are stable and remain in high spirits,” President Lungu said.

“Like,I said in my second address to the nation on Thursday, 9th April, 2020, the frontline workers are the real heroes of our times and they need massive support from us. They are leaving their families for days to contain the enemy on our behalf. They are doing this at great risk to their own lives and those of their families. They are protecting our lives day and night and they are saving lives of the sick. I pay tribute to them and wish those who are sick quick recovery so that they continue to do what they do best, saving our lives. This is why my directive in my last address to the multi-sectrol response led by the Minister of Health, to ensure these men and women are protected at all times cannot be over emphasized. For the work they do, let us pay back to them by ensuring they are protected at all times. I, therefore, direct that the multi-sectrol team to ensure that all the resources that have been sourced so far, especially the personal protective equipment (PPES) are quickly availed to these front line workers.”

He said the current economic challenges the country was facing could have been worse if the country had a complete lock down.

“As we strive to preserve the country’s health security by scaling up COVID-19 control interventions, we remain alive to the impact these interventions have on the economy of the country. Our expenditure on COVID-19 has been unplanned; our exports are constricted. Copper prices are all time low. Tourism has been run a ground due to COVID-19. The exchange rate is not as it should be; and businesses out there are hurting. I feel your pain! I do not need to mention you individually but i know that little outlet that has been closed brings nshima to your table. That little outlet that has been closed pays your rent. That little outlet pays school fees. But it could have been worse had we locked ourselves completely to avoid COVID-19 from coming to Zambia,” he said.

“There are other questions that require answers, which have an impact on the social-economic affairs of our country bearing in mind that currently our national budget has been thrown into disarray as a result of the COVID-19. If we maintained the status quo of the controlled movement of our people and restriction of some business due to the pandemic, where will the money come from for the many other important programs? Where will we find money to pay salaries for our public service employees?Where will we find money to pay retirees? What about FISP? What about the money for social cash transfer? Where will we find money to buy the much needed drugs for our hospitals? What about debt repayment obligations? What about fuel importations? When and how will the children get back to school? It is now over a month since schools were closed and the children are locked-up in homes. Some of them literally with no modern facilities such as internet? Who will harvest the crops for our national food security? Who will deliver farming inputs? How will we distribute food relief? The jury is out on these questions! ”

And President Lungu said through the lessons and experiences learnt from the last month, he had authorized church gatherings, selected sporting activities while schools, bars and night clubs remained closed.  

“Based on the lessons and experiences learnt from the last one month where we have generally done well with containing the COVID-19 pandemic, we now know that we need to be cautious in reopening the key areas of our economy subject to public health regulations, guidelines and certification.We are still determining the extent of the disease through escalated testing and screening to assess when we shall reopen our economy fully,” President Lungu said.

“However, I have decided that some activities such as the following may continue being undertaken normally subject to adhering to public health regulations, guidelines and certifications: Places of worship may congregate while observing social distancing, mandatory face masks and sanitizing and hand washing guidelines; sporting activities such as golf and tennis, which do not involve physical contact between players where the sport is played in non-crowded space, can begin to be played but bars in those premises will remain closed; barbershops and salons may continue to operate with strict adherence and observing social distancing and regular sanitizing and hand washing.”

He warned that failure to adhere to the public health regulations would attract penalties including revoking of licences.

“Failure to adhere to the public health regulations, guidelines and certification, will attract penalties including revoking of licences at any given time. I am therefore directing law enforcement agencies to pursue any offenders. The general public are equally encouraged reporting any cases of non-adherence to these measures to relevant authorities. Let us be each other’s gate keepers.The government will continue modification of the implementation of COVID-19 interventions to facilitate continued economic activity and a gradual return of daily life to normalcy. We note that drastic change to current preventive and control measures could erode the gains attained and the situation could get out of control. Therefore, modification of control measures will be informed by the evolution of the outbreak,” he said.

“The main COVID-19 control strategy going forward shall continue to centre on prevention of infection, case finding through increased testing, isolation of cases, swift and thorough tracing of contacts, community engagement, and case management. The war we face today can only be won and conquered if, apart from you and I adhering to the new normal, you also allow health workers to conduct massive testing and contact tracing in our communities. These form the cornerstone to overcoming COVID-19 and shall be achieved through intensified surveillance at points of entry; targeted community screening and testing; and routine screening and active case search in healthcare facilities, particularly patients with respiratory symptoms. Also critical is mandatory use of masks in public; physical distancing; and observance of personal hygiene measures, including hand washing and respiratory etiquette.”

President Lungu further directed that the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry to ensure that chain stores prioritise local agricultural products in their localities.

“Every dark cloud has a silver lining. The current situation we find ourselves in opens a window of opportunity for Zambian farmers to produce and sell their products to chain stores that for a long time have denied them business and opted for foreign products. I am, therefore, directing the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry to ensure that chain stores prioritise local agricultural products in their localities. If a chain store is in Chipata let them buy agriculture products from our farmers in eastern province. Under the circumstances we are in, only products that cannot be sourced from locals should be imported. I hope that once this is actualised, even after COVID-19, our farmers will continue trading with these chain stores. I encourage citizens to form cooperatives to ensure they meet quality and safety demand,” President Lungu said.

He also instructed Finance Minister Dr Bwalya Ng’andu to pursue other options such as consolidating available resources in various empowerment funds  

“We need collaborative action in the coming months. Only by working together can we make significant progress in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on our socio-economic development. The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to us today that we are facing challenges that are global and interconnected. However, we are a developing country and we will feel it more than many others in terms of social economic impact. For this reason, I am instructing the Minister of Finance to pursue other options such as consolidating available resources in various empowerment funds so that these may be disbursed to small businesses, women groups, youths and the most vulnerable that have been hit the hardest,” he said.

“I look forward to the Ministry of Finance to creating a COVID-19 economic recovery fund that will help existing businesses, especially affected SMEs to remain stable during this period and beyond. The K10 billion loan facility I announced in my second address which is under the bank of Zambia could be part of the resources identified to this fund. I am also directing the Minister of Finance to identify other sources of funding to help beef up this fund so that as many businesses as possible may benefit.”

He urged the Citizen economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC) to look at proposals for new bankable businesses that could be funded during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“In order to create new businesses aimed at taking advantage of the void that has been created by reduced exports to Zambia because of COVID-19 lock downs, the Citizen Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC) should look at proposals for new bankable businesses that can be funded. My priority is wealth creation by creating new Zambian businesses. I will need regular updates from CEEC on the implementation of their proposals. I have also instructed the Minister of Communication and Transport and Smart Zambia to support better digital infrastructure and skills, and to formulate digital trade and e-services. This also applies to the ministry of education which is working hard to drive e-learning and television education in the country,” said President Lungu.

“Beyond COVID-19, our future economic growth will need to tap into emerging digital opportunities. E-services in the health sector will also be encouraged, including mobile phone-based diagnostic tools to ensure that those in need obtain the required information through out the crisis. The Ministry of Agriculture is instructed to encourage and support farmers to grow winter maize and engage in other agricultural activities to ensure that we create new businesses during this period.”