The World Health Organisation has named Zambia among 13 African countries that are at high risk of importing the deadly Coronavirus which broke out in China last year. This is a very scary development. What this mean is that foreign missions abroad are issuing negative travel advisories about the country, a situation which is likely to have a long term economic effect, depending on the persistence of the outbreak.

So how is Zambia dealing with this coronavirus outbreak and what measures are being put in place to protect its citizens on homeland and abroad? We must say that we don’t see the seriousness that this matter deserves from the relevant authorities. We also feel government institutions such as the Ministry of Health are not being totally honest about Zambia’s status on this global epidemic.

Why do we say so? Last week, the South African government disclosed that one case of suspected coronavirus was reported in Zambia. “Closer to our shores, we are aware that there is a suspected case under investigation in Zambia – the NICD is closely monitoring that situation,” said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.

When we called our Minister of Health Honourable Chitalu Chilufya, he vehemently denied this report saying he doesn’t know what his South African counterpart was talking about. Now, this is very strange because, given the lethal capacity of this virus, we think it would be a punishable offence for a Cabinet minister of South Africa to lie or scare tourists and other visitors destined for Zambia.

To us, the question of who is lying between our own minister and the South African government official is easy. We simply have to look at past examples. Our government lies a lot. They have lied about facts around the emergency power import from South Africa, they have locally denied the outbreak of cholera until people started to die, they have lied about government debts until sanctions have been imposed. On this particular coronavirus case, the Minister of Health lied to the nation that the World Health Organisation had categorised Zambia as a low risk country. But the truth has come out from the organisation itself which has categorically warned that Zambia is among the 13 countries on high risk alert. So clearly, Zambia lies about almost everything, so it is difficult to trust them.

But let’s say we give Honourable Dr Chilufya a benefit of the doubt and assume that the South African government got its facts wrong about the said suspected case of coronavirus reported in Zambia. We still see a problem with the handling of this matter because we are seeing very unpatriotic and uncaring statements from the Ministry of Higher Education. We have read that the ministry feels bringing Zambian students back home from China would be as good as importing the virus. Now, in our view, this is a very insensitive statement for a government official.

Government has told us that no students are infected by the virus and Zambian citizens in that country are free of the coronavirus for now. The Chinese Embassy in Lusaka has informed the public of the same message. If this is the case, the wise thing to do would be to encourage Zambians in that country to find their way home immediately before they are infected. In our opinion, it is heartless to wait for our fellow citizens living in China to get infected and die so that they are brought back home as cargo. If they are not infected, encourage them to come home so that they can be quarantined from here, tested and treated of any symptoms. Government employees living in China must be brought back on government expense while private individuals are equally welcomed back. This is better than saying “don’t come here because you can bring the virus”.

We are not suggesting something that is impossible. Britain which has hundreds of thousands of its citizens in China has called all of them back. The British government considers it its responsibility to rescue both the infected and uninfected citizens from the deadly outbreak. This shouldn’t be a bad decision considering that government claims we don’t have any infected Zambians so far.

We urge our government to take this global epidemic very seriously. People are dying out there and they are dying in large numbers. We want to hear serious policy direction on this issue. Has government imposed any considerable restrictions in the number of arrivals in the country, apart from the Chinese? What kind of screening mechanisms have we put in place? Do we have the required technology to detect infected visitors at all ports of entry into the country?

We are asking these questions because we have observed with sadness the confusion that is going on at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport where some immigration officers and some health officials are chasing after arriving passengers in a disorderly manner and forcing them to fill in some forms and list any coronavirus symptoms they may be having. After that, they go ahead and measure the passengers temperatures. This is causing a lot of confusion and congestion, and indeed some passengers are refusing to go through this procedure, arguing that there is no law or Statutory Instrument issued that empowers government official to record these personal details from arriving passengers.

Please, sober up and put practical measures in place to protect citizens from this virus. Yes, we know President Lungu said Chinese are like cockroaches and it’s impossible to hide from them, but this is not a Chinese issue any more. That’s why it’s been declared a global epidemic.