Following resistance from the clergy, government has reviewed gazetted rules effected on Saturday aimed at containing the further spread of Covid-19, particularly on the number of people in public gatherings.
Addressing the press in Lilongwe last evening, Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda said after a meeting with religious leaders, they decided to revert to limiting public gatherings to 100 people.
Said the minister: “Some measures that we had announced met resistance and today we had a meeting with religious leaders. After discussions, we have resolved that public gatherings revert to 100 people. Let me appeal that we follow all the other preventive measures.”
On his part, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako said government has started distributing masks, urging people to join forces with it to contain the pandemic.
On Wednesday, several church groups, including the CCAP General Assembly, Pastors Task Force on Covid-19 and the Prophetic Ministries Association of Malawi announced that they had rejected government’s decision to restrict religious gatherings to 10 people.
The development prompted a meeting yesterday between government officials and religious leaders.
In an interview, one of the attendees, Sheikh Dinala Chabulika of the Muslim Association of Malawi, said government has been given tasks on the matter.
He said: “The meeting was fruitful. Government’s task force has been given more tasks to work on rules while churches and mosques continue gathering as they have been doing, in this case, 100 people with all precautionary measures observed. They will submit new rules after thorough consultation with other stakeholders and religious bodies.”
On his part, Reverend Colin Mbawa, who represented the CCAP General Assembly, said the size of the structures where people gather must decide the numbers.
“We asked the government to walk the talk on gatherings. There is no compliance on social distance during funerals, Parliament meetings and markets, among others. Tuesday’s funeral in Blantyre was cited as an example,” he said.
Evangelical Association of Malawi secretary general Reverend Francis Mkandawire said the rules brought anxiety among Christians.
Meanwhile, legal and medical experts have faulted both the clergy and government for the mess.
Private practice lawyer Justin Dzonzi in an interview said government failed to deal with the issue in a manner that is consultative or which takes into account the country’s socio-economic realities.
He said: “If the government says you should wear masks, it must make a provision that those who cannot buy masks be provided. What I consistently see is that the planners, because they are mostly civil servants, fail to take into account these realities and then come up with regulations that are humanly impossible within the socio-economic realities of Malawi.”
On his part, infectious disease specialist Dr Titus Divala said both parties need to seriously think about the effects of their actions.
He said: “The implementational trigger and pathway for the gazetted text does not seem to be guided by a critical scientific direction that has been shared, leaving the population in the dark and failing to connect with what exactly government wants to achieve and by what date.
“On the planned violations of the gazette, I would say it is extremely unfortunate. The regulations are there to save lives. Shouldn’t standing in their way be interpreted as murder? Is the religious community willing to be associated with that?”
Among the gazetted rules, individuals are supposed to wear masks in all public areas or risk a K10 000 fine while funeral gatherings are limited to 50, failing which defaulters will be liable to a K100 000 fine and three months imprisonment.
Cumulatively, Malawi has recorded 4 912 cases, including 153 deaths. Of these cases, 1 071 are imported infections and 3 841 are locally transmitted.