THE Coronavirus has not only changed our day-to-day lives abruptly, it has also forced the global scientific community to reevaluate everything that we thought we knew about pandemics and how to survive them. From the look of things, this virus is here to stay a little longer than anyone anticipated. This means there is cause to panic because at the rate we are going, a fearful number of people are going to lose their lives by December.

Just look at the statistics, Minister of Health Dr Jonas Chanda just announced yesterday that the country recorded 1,264 new COVID-19 cases out of 10,523 tests done with 12 deaths in just 24 hours. He says of the 388 patients admitted to various health facilities, 252 are on oxygen therapy while 24 are in a critical condition.

“In the last 24 hours, our labs in the 10 provinces processed a total of 10,523 tests. Out of these, 1,264 new cases were recorded. This brings the cumulative number of cases recorded countrywide to 42,213. On a sad note, we continue to record a number of COVID-19 related deaths daily; in the last 24 hours, we recorded 12 new deaths countrywide. The cumulative number of deaths recorded now stands at 597. Of these, 388 patients are admitted to our various health facilities with 252 on oxygen therapy and 24 in critical condition; while 9,706 are under community management,” said Dr Chanda.

The first thing that our people must understand about this pandemic is that the government cannot protect you and neither can your family. This is a matter of saving yourself first by masking up and staying away from crowds, and then saving others thereafter. The second wave of Covid-19 is not to be taken casually, if we thought 2020 was a bad year, we must think again because 2021 is so far proving to be worse. There is no way that the government can curb the spread of this pandemic if members of the public do not engage in behavioural change.

There are some people who feel the statistics are not as scary compared to other countries. Well, the truth is that our government doesn’t know for sure how many people have the Covid-19 virus and how many have died of it. We are not suggesting that the Ministry of Health has been issuing false statistics during daily briefings, we are saying they simply have no capacity to know, they don’t have accurate data.

When the Ministry of Health announces that they have recorded 1,200 new cases and 12 deaths in the past 24 hours, that is not accurate. Comprehensive Covid-19 tests in Zambia take 24 hours to produce results and even longer in some cases. Therefore, the information that they give at daily briefings is technically outdated. The other thing is that people who test positive are asked to self-isolate at home, but the ministry has no capacity to call 9,000 people and keep track of their health conditions while minding those that are piling up in government health facilities.

Sources tell us that in fact, a serious disaster is brewing in the country because Levy Mwanawasa, the University Teaching Hospital and Maina Soko Military Hospital have run out of oxygen as the numbers continue to swell. We are told that the number of Covid-19 patients requiring oxygen has outstripped the capacity of the facilities. We are further informed that the contractor constructing a specialist hospital near the airport has refused to hand over the facility due to outstanding payments, and is demanding at least US$30 million payment before any Covid-19 patient can be taken there. All these are indications that the Ministry of Health is fast running out of capacity to save lives.

What is worse is that apart from the Covid-19 crisis that we need to survive, there is also a dying economy to deal with. Many companies were closed for almost the entire 2020 and some remain closed to date. Those that are operating are working with lean staff, just as a going concern. The more these companies continue to record losses, the harder it becomes to keep the workers on salary. Things that one can do to realise an income for a household are becoming fewer and fewer and soon there will be nothing.

As if that is not enough, we have a general election approaching in just six months. Sadly, the people who are supposed to be enforcing public health guidelines are in the forefront flouting the very rules that they put in place. Instead of cutting down on unnecessary movements, our politicians are taking out food and other materials to woo the masses out of the safety of their houses.

The point is that this Covid-19 death toll we are seeing will soon pose a logistical nightmare to the August general election. Our advice to the Electoral Commission of Zambia is that they should start now to engage stakeholders to consult and agree on the campaign modalities in the face of the pandemic. They should know that this virus is not going away and its spread is only getting worse. The Commission must prepare ahead of time on how it will conduct elections under a worst case scenario.

This may appear to be a non-issue today but soon there will be an uprising from the opposition if those in power continue to traverse the country for campaigns while others are told not to leave their houses. Good leaders plan ahead of time, but foolish ones wait until the situation occurs so that they put up reactive measures.