PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu’s desire to re-open some sectors of Zambia’s economy is not a feasible plan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, says Alliance for Democracy and development (ADD) president Charles Milupi.

And Milupi has expressed concern over the continued suspicious deaths as people are now dying in various parts of the country with suspected COVID-19 symptoms.

Last Wednesday, President Edgar Lungu said he would engage Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya to begin unlocking some sectors of the economy, even if it meant the continued wearing of face masks and social distancing as the country continued battling COVID-19.

But in an interview, Milupi said President Lungu did not know what he was talking about because government had kept the country’s borders open.

“First of all, government must tell us what lockdown measures they have put in place because we haven’t seen them. It’s just schools that have been closed, and maybe bars and churches, but he (President Lungu) is talking about relaxing and he said this at company premises, Trade Kings. So, which company has shut down as a result of Coronavirus? When Mopani tried to go on care and maintenance, government stopped them. So, all the companies that should have been working are working, so what is he going to open? Just opening bars, opening churches and so on? Now, even when the reported cases have been so few and the number is small not as a result of not having COVID-19, but as a result of lack of widespread testing. So, people are moving around with it and because, probably, they are not displaying symptoms, they are not being tested,” Milupi said.

“Our view is very straightforward: the measures that we have put in place were too little, too late. You remember that when this virus broke out in China, we, the opposition, advised government to put in measures to lock down the country. In fact, some opposition members in Parliament raised a point of order against the inflow of people from China where the epicentre was at the time, the Minister of Health (Dr Chitalu Chilufya), who pulled the idea, said, ‘you know, if we do this, we shall be xenophobic’ and so on, protecting what is perceived to be the interest of the Chinese against the interest of Zambia. Now, the rest of the world is locked down, including China themselves. Now, you can see what is happening to our colleagues, who are not even that badly affected, they are now being harassed in China! Sometimes, we must look after the interest of our nation.”

He asked government to show a level of seriousness as the country continued tackling the deadly disease.

“Now, when he says, ‘we are going to help them,’ what is he going to help them with? So, it shows lack of seriousness, lack of understanding exactly what is happening. And when these deaths now go up such that we do not have adequate facilities in our hospitals, what is he going to do? Lock down the country now? You remember when they had their Cabinet meeting a few weeks (ago) when the (Health) Minister was pushing for locking down, and Minister of Finance was saying, ‘no, I don’t have money to feed people,’ they refused him then to lock down the country so when did the lockdown happen? So, let them not just say things for the sake of saying, we want to see seriousness of government in tackling this disease, in ensuring that the country is well-prepared to fight this deadly enemy,” he said.

And Milupi expressed worry that the virus had spread to other parts of the country and was still being spread by those who had it, but were asymptomatic.

“Now, when it has already arrived, and people have died, they are dying all over the place! I am in Mongu here, now, there is someone, who has died and rumours from the hospital are that the symptoms were those of Coronavirus. I know they have taken samples for testing and so on. So, it’s no longer just in Lusaka, there are these issues and when someone dies, it means, then, that from the time of infection, to death, they have come in contact with many people, travelling on buses, family members, in places of work, visitors and so on. So, it is quite probable that it’s all over the place. Now, had that lock out been done early, we would not have had that family that came from France; the people that brought it from Pakistan; the Chinese that brought it all over the place! And some people, who have died, have come from South Africa,” bemoaned Milupi.

“Now, in spite of having reviewed relatively few cases already, how many or our healthcare workers have been affected? We hear of these at Chilenje Hospital and so on. Already, our healthcare workers have been affected because we do not have adequate protection for them. How many nurses have even got masks, just simple masks, let alone the PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment). So, what they should be concentrating on is to put in measures that will limit the spread of this disease by, first of all, protecting our caregivers: the doctors, the nurses, the people who work in hospitals because these are ones who come face-to-face with the disease. It’s unfortunate that we have health professionals that are getting sick on behalf of us citizens. What the Minister of Finance should be announcing, in fact, what they should have concentrated on is to give us hope that our nurses, our doctors, our clinical officers will be protected.”