Editor's Comment

Deal with threat in markets

SOME Lusaka residents and traders carrying out their routine activities unmoved by the coronavirus on Freedom Way yesterday. PICTURE: COLLINS PHIRI

MARKETS are by their design difficult to enforce measures such as World Health Organisation (WHO) safety regulations.
By design, the stalls are compact and closely constructed. This makes it difficult for the market traders and their customers to practise social distancing, now aptly called physical distancing.
As for the customers, traffic to the different sections is unregulated as customer needs and preferences are also difficult to pre-determine and regulate.
The only way is to enforce personal hygiene for both the market traders and customers by regularly disinfecting premises thoroughly and placing sanitisers at various points.
Marketeers and buyers should also wear masks. In fact, marketeers are expected to be wearing gloves too, but these should be changed frequently. It would not make sense to have the same gloves the whole day because, while they would be protecting themselves, they could be spreading the virus by touching so many things and surfaces.
That said, it is better to just regularly sanitise or wash their hands.
Regularly disinfecting premises and availing sanitisers is a measure that must be enforced by market chairpersons as directed by Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya during yesterday’s press briefing, during which he also announced that Zambia has recorded the first death from the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr Chilufya also announced that the country has recorded three new cases from tests done on suspected cases, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country to 39.
Dr Chilufya observed with sadness the non-compliance to hygiene standards as well as physical distancing in places such as markets and bus stations.
There is need for massive sensitisation to educate marketeers on why physical distance is critical as well as other measures such as washing hands regularly.
Trading in markets takes place daily although most marketeers operate their stands six days in a week because some rest on Saturday while others take days off on Sundays for worship.
In view of the threat posed by the COVID-19, market chairpersons should come up with a schedule for marketeers to start trading three times a week.
This means that in rows, they will be taking turns when to trade during the week so that physical distancing is adhered to considering that COVID-19 is very infectious.
This may seem harsh on the marketeers, but they need to understand that prevention is better than cure.
It will surely be the best way forward.
This is a tough decision, but marketeers have no choice but to comply so that they contribute to preventing the transmission of COVID-19, which is affecting 203 countries and territories around the world and two international conveyances.
Failure by marketeers or market chairpersons to adhere to minimum standards may compel Government to close markets. Closing markets would worsen the situation considering that most people live hand to mouth.
A vast majority of these citizens are in the informal economy or sector, with marketeers taking up a huge chunk.
That is why market chairpersons have been mandated by Government to ensure they create acceptable physical distancing barriers in the markets and transfer that responsibility to the stand owners.
What is missing so far in markets is physical distancing to create proper walkways and define trading spaces.
If implemented, the directive by the minister will help reduce congestion in markets. Such a move should be accompanied by some incentive to traders such as waiving of market fees as the volumes of sales by marketeers will become lower. Incentives of that nature can help enforce behavioural change to appropriate physical distancing.
Health inspectors should help market chairpersons in enforcing the measures. Market masters from local authorities should also assist in monitoring compliance.

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