FORMER Commerce, Trade and Industry Minister Robert Sichinga says there is need for government to find innovative ways of re-opening various sectors of Zambia’s economy amid COVID-19 to ensure people’s livelihoods are not destroyed.

In an interview, Sichinga said there was need to make adjustments to ensure that people’s lives returned to normalcy while observing the necessary guidelines of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“For me, I think we need to deal with the issue of this coronavirus very carefully. I am of the view that you cannot keep the schools, industries, closed forever. If we did that, then we would end up with so many problems in terms of people’s livelihoods and especially as far as Nakonde is concerned. Nakonde’s survival depends on the trade between Zambia and Tanzania, it’s a border town. So, all the people’s livelihoods, all their businesses are border-related; there may be clearing agents, there may be traders buying and selling things from Tanzania and backwards…especially things like rice, which you call ‘Nakonde rice’, there is no Nakonde rice and there is no rice in Nakonde. That rice comes from Tanzania; the so-called Nakonde rice is from Tanzania. So, people’s businesses in Nakonde are dependent on movement between Nakonde and Tanzania,” Sichinga said.

“Things like the Irish potatoes are also brought from Tanzania, even motor cycles are brought from Tanzania because as a country with a seaboard, there’s always things, which are cheaper on the other side. So, in Nakonde, people’s livelihoods are immediately connected to the trade between the two countries. So, you cannot keep these borders closed forever. It’s like just Livingstone, the Chirundu border, you cannot keep these things unattended for a long time or you will be destroying lives!”

And Sichinga urged government to consider Zambia’s circumstances of the limited capacity to conduct electronic lessons and invest in protective measures that would help keep children safe in school.

“Are the children going to stop going to school because there is coronavirus? At least in more developed countries, there are things like Internet. But try and find Internet in Nakonde, try and find Internet in rural areas, where are you going to find it? In any case, would the parents be able to afford Internet when they have no jobs? Will the parents be able to afford to pay for the equipment that children need like phones to access to Internet learning and other things so that children in primary school can have access to electronic platforms? It’s not possible. So, adjustments must be made, we need to consider our own circumstances here and our own circumstances are such that we need to be conscious of the limited capacity that we have as a people at this point in time. We need to invest in measures of protecting children and take them back to school than keep them at home,” said Sichinga.

“I think that it is important that we find mechanisms and there are experiences about how progressive we can open up institutions. For example, universities can immediately be opened and then put responsibility on the administrators of those institutions to make sure the issues of coronavirus precautions are taken because you can’t say children will remain without going to school this year and next year and the year after. You have to find a way of helping the children go back to school. The most important thing is bearing in mind that we need to implement preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19. So, the responsibility must be such that they put in these mechanisms and guidelines and issues of managing the students by making sure that they are not infecting each other. After that, everything else should start falling back in place. People can’t just be locked up in their houses because there is a disease out there, not especially when there is very little State assistance. So, yes, there is coronavirus, but precautions must be taken to make sure that children are not exposed.”