Editor's Comment

Lockdown worse pill

ZAMBIA is caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock being the worrisome rising cases of COVID-19 that may require a lockdown and the hard place being the economic turbulences that could worsen if a lockdown is imposed.
Just when the country appeared to recover from the 2018-2019 drought following favourable rains during the 2019-2020 agricultural season, which has culminated into a bumper harvest, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is reversing the gains made.
President Edgar Lungu has weighed the options and the scale has tilted in favour of a ‘no lockdown’ but with concerted efforts to adhere to advice by health authorities on how to keep the virus at bay.
The economy is under stress. Real Gross Domestic Product growth, which was projected at around -3.5 percent early this year, has since been downgraded to ‑5 percent.
The inflation rate is around 13.4 percent, meaning that the cost of most essential goods is beyond the reach of many citizens.
The closure of borders and the airspace has meant that Zambia, a landlocked country, is now facing the brunt of the lockdown being enforced across its borders and beyond. Being ‘land-linked’ is not much of a respite.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on world markets and this has been reflected in the volatility of the foreign exchange rates.
The Kwacha has not been spared due to travel restrictions which have affected the services, tourism and hospitality industries as tourists are not coming into the country.
Being an import-dependent country has meant that the country is exporting its foreign exchange more than it is earning it.
The country’s social and macroeconomic impact of the COVID-19 shock, on top of a severe drought last year, will be heavy.
The International Monetary Fund says fiscal pressures in 2020 have increased due to significantly lower revenue collections and higher spending needs.
Most Zambians are getting by through the significantly reduced business interactions at various levels.
For most of these citizens, survival is a daily challenge. They live hand to mouth. Any day away from a business environment would mean being deprived of the basics of living, including food.
A lockdown would, therefore, mean being in a place so hard that suffering would creep into the lives of many Zambians, or worsen.
At a broader level, Government could find itself with worsened revenue and thus reduced service provision, including in the health sector, which is in need of more resources to fight COVID-19.
Fighting COVID-19 requires that Government has financial resources to pay the frontline staff and for the other materials and facilities to take care of the patients.
Therefore locking down the economy in the manner being proposed by some mischievous persons would mean even more diminished revenues for Government, which would make the fight against COVID-19 even more difficult to sustain.
Of course there are some who would argue that a lockdown would mean less coronavirus patients and thus less resources needed. That is not entirely so. The health sector is much more than COVID-19 and a lockdown is only effective if the people do have supplies to live on when confined.
Most citizens are employed in the informal sector. If Government locks down the country, that may mean overstretching the already low resources in the treasury. Government would be too stretched to provide for the families of the people in the informal sector such as traders and vendors or they die, not necessarily because of COVID-19, but because of other complications, including hunger.
The crippling effects of a lockdown on the economy include loss of jobs as is happening in other parts of the world, including in some of the richest countries.
A lockdown will increase the number of people living in abject poverty. Extreme poverty will translate into most people going hungry due to inadequate nutrition and food insecurity.
There is also a heightened risk of an increase in crime as more unemployed people could resort to desperate measures such as thefts to ostensibly sustain a living.
So the fight against COVID-19 must be a balanced act, taking into account the country’s peculiarities.
The Patriotic Front administration is pro-poor, and cannot abdicate its responsibility of looking after the vulnerable people.
By stating that Government will not lock down the country, President Lungu does not in any way suggest that human life is not sacrosanct.
In fact, President Lungu’s decision is aimed at saving lives not only today but also tomorrow and many years or decades to come.
Citizens must support this position by playing their part of following guidelines such as observing social distancing, masking up in public, sanitising or regularly washing hands with soap and indeed staying home.
That is the best way in which Zambians can collectively extricate themselves from the rock and the hard place.

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