This country’s high court blocked its coronavirus lockdown in a bid to protect the poor

No longer heading into lockdown. For now.
No longer heading into lockdown. For now.
Image: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
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A high court in Malawi has granted Human Rights Defenders Coalition a seven-day injunction stopping the government from implementing a 21-day national lockdown due to coronavirus. The injunction is temporary and an inter-partes hearing is expected within seven days.

On Tuesday, president Peter Mutharika announced a 21-day lockdown which was meant to begin on Saturday April 18 i n a bid to contain the spread of the virus in the country. In his address Mutharika, warned that up to 50,000 Malawians could lose their lives to the Covid-19 virus but he did not outline a  social safety net for the vulnerable during the lockdown, which prompted a civil society group to seek a stop order from the court.

“Our message is simple, we are not accepting this issue of lockdown unless government comes up with proper measures to protect the lives of Malawians, all we are saying is that different stakeholders such as religious leaders, civil society organizations should come together to digest this issue and come up with a proper solution,” said Gift Trapence chairperson for Human Rights Defenders Coalition.

Following Malawi government’s failure to put in place any measure to cushion the poor during the lockdown, thousands of informal traders in the cities of Mzuzu and Blantyre took it to the streets to protest against a coronavirus lockdown with placards that read “Lockdown more poisonous than Corona” and another “We’d rather die of corona than die of hunger.”

Many of these vendors are daily wage earners and a lockdown in the country could greatly affect them. A lot of people in Malawi operate on a hand to mouth basis. It is unclear if Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, can afford to offer cash transfers to its low income citizens as some policy analysts have been recommending.

Malawi’s economy relies on informal economies like most African countries. Many policy analysts and development economists across Africa and the developing world have started to criticize African governments for rushing to mimic the lockdown strategies of wealthier, developed countries in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. There are now louder calls for countries to adapt preventive measures and policies that better suit each country. This is particularly relevant in congested urban areas where social distancing is difficult and there is little availability of clean water to wash hands.

“Our challenge is to adapt social distancing measures to informal economies which lack a comprehensive safety net to support those shut in,” writes W. Gyude Moore, a former Liberian public works minister. Moore recommends African countries focus on more flexible curfews rather than total lockdowns given most economies are 90% informal. He also recommends engaging with local community leaders to share the message and expand the definition of essential services.

So far Malawi has recorded 17 cases of Covid-19 with two deaths. The ministry of health has announced that three people who earlier tested positive have now tested negative but will re-do the tests.

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