THE Ministry of Health says there is a sharp spike in the COVID-19 positivity rate and many cases in the communities are only being picked up now. As at yesterday, Zambia recorded 450 new COVID-19 cases, including 11 health workers. Every day that passes, we have people on oxygen, some in critical condition with little chance of survival. Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya says we are now at an alarming stage and citizens must be concerned about this.

“When you look at the positivity rate in Zambia, we are seeing a sharp spike. If you look at the week beginning 1st June, we were at about 1.8 per cent positivity and when you look at the way we are proceeding, we are now at 25.4 per cent. This is a very steep rise in our positivity. It means that there are many more cases in the community that are picking up. And every week, we are seeing a rise in positivity and this needs to be stopped. The rate at which we are moving is alarming,” says Dr Chilufya.

Dear citizen, if you are reading this and you are still wondering if COVID-19 is real and if it truly exists in Zambia, you are a target of our awareness campaign because you are potentially at highest risk of contracting the deadly virus. Over 140 people have so far perished in our country, out of about 5,000 cases recorded. More than 75 per cent of these deaths and positive cases have been recorded since last month only. There is cause for worry because it means the COVID has now officially arrived.

Indeed, it is true that everyone who needs to know about COVID-19 has heard about it, but we are concerned about citizens who are either underrating the impact of this pandemic or don’t care enough to change their behaviour in order to minimise the spread of the virus. We are disturbed, as a newspaper, to see that a lot of people in Zambia are not taking the fight against COVID-19 very seriously. Despite all these deaths, people are not sanitising their hands as guided by medical experts, people are not practicing social distance, and very few people are wearing masks in public. In the markets and at bus stops, the situation is so scary!

We would like to reiterate a message that we have shared in the past. Government has failed to contain this virus through effective policy guidelines, that’s a given. We missed the opportunity to contain the spread about four months ago. It is now time to focus on behaviour change. Now, human behaviour is not something that we can expect the government to regulate, it has to take individual citizens’ effort. This is an unexpected crisis, no country out there was prepared for this pandemic. If major world economies are struggling to save lives, we should be very worried about what will happen here in Zambia in the next month or two.

Our organisation is desperate to play a role in sensitising the public on COVID-19. So, we have come on board to partner with the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Health to help escalate this awareness campaign. Our newspaper has offered government free advertising space, both in the print and electronic editions as well as social media platforms. With support from our partners at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), we have gone further to partner with several radio and television stations in creating programmes for public health experts to use in communicating and sharing their knowledge about this virus.

Some people may misunderstand our interest and wonder why we should be helping relevant authorities when we do not get any advertising support from the government. “This is a surprising partnership, why Diggers?” others have asked. Our position is simple. First, we recognise the fact that COVID-19 has destroyed many businesses, including the newspaper industry. The longer we have this pandemic in circulation, the more companies will close down. Many businesses thrive on people’s movements, we cannot survive in a lockdown. This is the more reason why every well-meaning Zambian must take interest in fighting this pandemic. COVID-19 is real.

In fact, what surprises us is that political parties in this country have remained divided on this score. Our political leaders are still finger pointing and doing less in sensitising citizens to effect behaviour change. Yes, government has failed to contain the virus and some government officials are using the pandemic to disadvantage their political rivals, but that is the more reason why all well-meaning citizens and organisations must come on board to help contain the pandemic so that we can go back to our usual lives.

It would be delightful to hear that political parties are forming intra-party COVID-19 task force committees to focus on spreading awareness messages to their members. Some people listen more to their political leaders than they listen to government officials because there is an understandable mistrust that exists. So, this means we must all first unite to defeat the spread of COVID-19 in time so that we secure a conducive environment for conducting businesses and for campaigns ahead of next year’s general election.