Remarks that are coming from government on the country’s preparedness for the Coronavirus are sending a message that citizens are on their own. Last week, Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr Abel Kabalo told the media that although the Ministry could disseminate information on the Covid-19 virus, the responsibility to prevent an outbreak lies with the citizens.

“You know, we can disseminate information, we can give all the guidelines but of course, for us to prevent any outbreak, it’s at individual level to ensure we maintain the highest level of hygiene. We put in precautionary measures whereby if you know that person could have been in contact with a high risk area, you wear masks, self-isolation, especially for those that have been in risky places, those are some of the things that we are advising,” Dr Kabalo said.

It’s not quite clear what message the good doctor was telling us but it looks like the Ministry was looking for an intelligent way of informing the public that it has no plan in place to contain the virus should the situation arise, and as such, it is going to be each one for himself and God for us all. And that doesn’t sound very encouraging.

We agree with Dr Kabalo that citizens need to exercise the highest level of hygiene, especially in the face of this deadly virus that has ravaged a close ally of the nation – China. We also agree that there is need for vigilance on the part of the citizens.

But how does it make sense for the Ministry to say that all they can do is disseminate information? Is it normal that government is talking about self-isolation without addressing the continued traffic between the two countries? We have asked this question before: how wise is it to dictate that Zambian students living in China must stay there so that they don’t import the virus, but the Chinese wishing to come to Zambia are free to do so?

Certainly, this is not a position that we can agree with because it is this kind of lopsided thinking that will see our nation perish, God forbid, should anyone carrying the virus cross over into Zambian territory.

Government is aware that there is a lot of traffic back and forth between Zambia and China, putting the nation at high risk of letting in infected migrants and causing an outbreak. This alone is reason enough for government to revise its approach and put restrictive measures in place for travel.

This is very worrying. Countries like the U.K which have the capacity to deal with the virus have taken serious precautionary measures, but we are dealing with this global crisis like we know better. We are very worried that if we are not careful, Zambia will import the virus and that will pose serious social and economic problems in the country.

It appears Zambia is so deeply dependent on China that we have no capacity or luxury to dictate anything to our Chinese masters. That is why Zambian students who are at high risk of contracting the virus in China are being told to stay where they are, yet we welcome Chinese families and businessmen – some without being subjected to any medical screening.

What is also worrying is that according to the Associated Press article published a fortnight ago, Kitwe has a direct link to Wuhan, the epicentre of Covid-19, through a Copperbelt-based Chinese company that operates at one of the mines. It has been said that this company has its headquarters in Wuhan.

According to the same article, at a Chinese-run hospital in Zambia, some employees watched as people who recently returned from China showed up with coughs but were not placed in isolation. Visiting Zambian health officials concluded the patients did not merit special treatment and did not take samples to test for the virus.

If what this article says is true (which we believe it is, given that the AP is a very credible international news agency), then we are in real danger of having an outbreak of our own here and the Ministry of Health is sleeping, it is not proactive at a time the nation needs vigilance from the relevant authorities.

On the other hand, China has to show mercy for Africa now more than ever before. China needs to execute desperate measures to stop this virus from spreading to poor African countries such as Zambia. China is a rich country; they have advanced health facilities, they have state of the art treatment centres and emergency procedures.

If China, with all the resources and technology at its disposal, can lose over 2,000 citizens within such a short period, one can only imagine how many people in Zambia could die from this virus if it came here. Zambia doesn’t have the financial capacity. We can’t even pay suppliers of malaria test kits.

It is for this reason that China must take a step to protect poor countries like ours by advising its citizens to cut on travel. If China means well for Zambia and Africa, this shouldn’t be a difficult consideration to make. We should not wait until the virus is here before we can start asking China to help.

We are lucky not to have recorded any cases of the virus but we cannot ride on luck or hope that a declaration of a few days of prayer and fasting will keep us safe.