THE announcement by Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya that she has tested positive for COVID-19 is sobering and calls for reflection and introspection. What Dora Siliya has done is very good and inspiring. This is what the people of Zambia expect of our leaders. This action by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting goes straight to confront the stigma that some of our leaders have tried to attach to this pandemic.

Now, while this announcement by Honourable Siliya should ordinarily attract sympathy and concern, it seems there are many of our people who are not convinced that she is saying the truth, and the question is why? As a people, we are generally not callous, we can mostly be described as kind and accommodating, especially when misfortune strikes. In times of sickness, and bereavement, sworn enemies are known to bury the hatchet and come together in solidarity. It should therefore worry all of us when a significant portion of public opinion rises to question a public announcement of illness.

The Coronavirus and the disease that it causes, COVID-19, are nothing to smile about. We do not see any benefit in a minister choosing to sink so low as to make a fake claim about such a matter. We therefore whole-heartedly commend Honourable Siliya for coming out and underlining how serious it is by announcing her own status. We sympathise with Honourable Siliya because, like any of us, she has a reason to be concerned about the virus that is coursing through her veins. Any one of us would be afraid to receive that diagnosis, but now she also has to deal with a skeptical public that is questioning her well-intentioned announcement. This is absolutely unfair!

Honourable Siliya deserves our support, encouragement, prayers and commendation, not ridicule and hatred. It is not too long ago when this newspaper and its editor were the subject of attack by a government minister because we dared to announce that he was in quarantine. While we expected that particular minister to be happy that we had informed the public about his commendable self-isolation, the reaction we got was so disproportionate that one would have thought we had insulted him. COVID-19 is a public health problem which can affect anyone and should therefore be dealt with as such. This is the message that Honourable Siliya is sending.

But we must also state that the apprehensions that we are seeing from the public about Honourable Siliya’s announcement can only be explained by a serious credibility gap. Lately, many of our people have rightly come to doubt what the government says because our government likes lying. It is difficult to believe a liar when they decide to tell the truth. In our opinion, this is why a well-intended announcement from the Honourable is being questioned.

We have also noted that this government seems to be having problems dealing with COVID-19 as a public health matter without trying to score cheap political points. We all saw the way they rushed to make PF branded masks to try and take political advantage out of a deadly situation. They took COVID-19 as a campaign tool. It doesn’t take a genius to read that the pandemic has led to internal strife in the government and the Patriotic Front. It is clear that there is jostling for prominence and political manoeuvering. That’s why some people think Honourable Siliya is being a drama queen.

But the public is not interested in the internal politics of PF. The public needs the truth about COVID-19 and its likely impact. That is all. This will increase the confidence that our people have in what the government is saying. There are many questions that are not being addressed. Just the other day, social media was awash with a viral video that showed supposed COVID-19 patients dancing. The reaction of our government was to rebuke those dancers. The question that many of our people have is: how come people who are suffering from such a deadly disease and who are supposed to be on ventilator machines are dancing?

When Honourable Siliya made her announcement, she told the nation that she is asymptomatic, meaning that although she has the virus coursing through her blood stream, and could potentially infect those who came into contact with her, she is showing no symptoms. What does that information help us from a prevention point of view? What percentage of people who have tested positive are asymptomatic? What is the scientific explanation for this?

We have also heard stories of COVID-19 patients from a quarantine facility in Lusaka playing football. They are fit enough to play around. The public needs to be told the truth about how the virus is affecting its victims so far so that when we are being told to accept the new normal, we know what it is. The government clearly needs the help of competent and credible scientists as well us public health experts to help us manage this deadly pandemic and the understandable hysteria that it has created.

Most importantly, individual citizens who test positive must play the crucial role of sharing the information while retreating into isolation. Being positive is not a death sentence, yet some of our leaders are treating the virus with such stigma. The fact that people can question a well-meaning minister who, in a manner and characteristic of this government openly announces her own COVID-19 positive diagnosis, should make this government stop and think about how it is managing this pandemic.

Bravo Dora for coming out brave. Get well soon and let’s get politics out of this deadly disease!