Business

SOCIAL DISTANCING DIFFICULTIES; THE REALITY

Thirty-nine-year-old Prisca Nyangu a single mother of five fends for her family selling vegetables at Lusaka’s Mtendere market.

She spends long hours sometimes in the scorching sun, chilling cold or taking cover from rains depending on the time of the year and the weather it comes with.

She goes through this all to make sure she pays rent, raises school fees for her children and provide for their different needs.

Just when she was all but settled from taking cover from rains in 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19), which was being fought mainly in China from end of 2019 and was declared a global pandemic at the end of January 2020, had landed in Zambia. Literally. The first two COVID-19 cases in Zambia were announced on March 18, 2020. This was a couple that had traveled to France for a 10-day holiday, with their two children and arrived in the country a few days before the announcement.

The Zambian government through the Ministry of Health on March 13, 2020 activated Statutory Instrument (SI) number 21 which recognized the COVID-19 as a notifiable infectious disease and through Statutory Instrument (SI) number 22 laid out regulations which authorized officers could enforce. The regulations were aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 by prohibiting the trade of food products, ready to eat foods from and in any location, which may pose a danger to the health of the consumers and traders. They are also authorized to make sure that the guidelines such as the restrictions on public gatherings as outlined by the minister of health Dr Chitalu Chilufya are being carried out by the masses.

But outside Lusaka’s Mtendere market where Nyangu sells her vegetables, it is business as usual. While an increasing number of people are now wearing masks partly because of increased awareness on how deadly COVID-19 is and how it quickly spreads, social distancing is difficult to implement. The place is crowded and is a hive of activity with people headed for various destinations making way.

The spirit in which these SI’s were enacted was to safeguard people’s lives and to prevent the spread of COVID-19, however the reality on the ground, particularly the ones aimed at enforcing social distancing are proving to be a challenge especially in densely populated residential areas and high traffic spots such as markets.

For instance, most markets do not have enough trading spaces so the enforcement of the one-meter apart distance rule may not be effective. Some marketeers would have to be kicked out of the markets to create enough space for the remaining to trade safely. Enforcing this law would impact negatively on traders such as Nyangu. And where would this leave her five children, given that her income is mostly hand-to mouth?

Not far from where Nyangu operates from is 51-year-old Patricia Chama who also supports her family selling vegetables. Her concern is the irregular supply of water in the area.

“We want to follow the law. We were told to buy buckets. We bought the buckets to store water for washing our hands but water is a problem,” Chama says.

Washing of hands or disinfection using hand sanitizers are among the measures that the government is promoting to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Other areas that are difficult to implement social distancing are bus stations. Most people especially in urban areas depend on public transport for movement from one area to another. The sitting arrangement in most, if not all the public buses across the country break the rules of social distancing.

In trying to contain the growing numbers of those getting infected in the country, government announced a directive of everyone having to wear a mask in public.

While numbers are increasing for people wearing masks when using buses, there are some who are not. This is the least of worries for bus conductor Andrew Chitambala whose bus carries passengers from Mtendere market. Chitambala is more interested in making sure that his bus is full. Why? His pay from his boss who is the driver of the bus depends on how much they make at the end of a working day. So Chitambala cares more about how many passengers he can get than policing those wearing masks and carrying hand sanitizers or even disinfecting their hands.

In the meantime, Zambia is still fighting COVID-19 trying to make sure infection numbers do not get out of control. While there is no telling who the most vulnerable could be if infection numbers were to rapidly rise, Nyangu and Chitambala’s work spaces outside Mtendere market and in the bus respectively are possible fertile grounds for the spread of COVID-19 if no stricter measures are employed.

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