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Zambian president hailed for halting high-handed enforcement of COVID-19 measures

By Sheji Halima [NAN]

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President Edgar Lungu was on Thursday hailed for directing agencies entrusted to enforce COVID-19 guidelines to stop harassing and beating people found flouting the rules.

A COVID-19 Task Force established in Lusaka, the country’s capital, led by provincial minister Bowman Lusambo has come under criticism over its high-handed way of enforcing the guidelines.

The minister has vowed that all those flouting the guidelines will feel his weight and that the task force will ensure strict adherence to the guidelines.

Video clips on various social media platforms have been showing the team beating and harassing people found drinking beer in various night spots across the city at night.

But the Zambian president, in a statement released by his office, said it is regrettable that enforcement officers have lately abused or humiliated citizens found flouting COVID-19 guidelines.

Instead of using force, the Zambian leader said enforcement officers can make citizens abide by the guidelines without necessarily harassing them but talking to them nicely.

The Zambian leader, however, said there is a correlation between the high numbers of cases seen in the second wave and the relaxed observance of the COVID-19 guidelines.

“Arguably, we dropped our guard. The COVID-19 guidelines I had announced in 2020 as recommended by the health experts were largely ignored and we forgot about the New Normal toward the end of 2020,’’ he said.

The Bars and Night Club Owners Association of Zambia, which raised concerns over the way the provincial task force was implementing the enforcement of the guidelines, has lauded Lungu for intervening.

Peter Mwale, the organization’s chairperson, said the directive by the president is welcome and a step in the right direction because what the task force had been doing is not supported by law.

“We are grateful to the president for openly censuring his minister. What the minister has been doing is not right, you don’t implement a law through beating people,’’ he said in an interview.

While acknowledging that there could be few members of the association abrogating the guidelines, he noted that there has been 90 per cent compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines by the majority of the members.

According to him, all bars and night club owners have been issued with COVID-19 certificates, as failure to adhere to the guidelines can result in the loss of operating license.

“As an association, we are more than ready to ensure adherence to the guidelines because it is for our own good.

“Right now, we have only been given three days to operate and this is affecting our business. The sooner we deal with this disease the better for our businesses,’’ he added.

The association, he said, would have taken the minister and his task force for harassing people to court had the president not intervened.

Residents of Lusaka have also supported the directive by the president.

Chanda Bwalya said the president has done well to direct his minister to stop the harassment of people as there was no emergency law that has been signed.

“You have done well to clear the air. I was going to sue your government for blatantly violating my constitutional rights if I was ever whipped,’’ she said.

Luka Banda said the minister and his ministers were the ones abrogating by harassing and beating up innocent citizens, adding that the directive was timely.

According to the presidential directive issued in September 2020, bars and night clubs are supposed to operate from certain hours although this has not been followed.

The Zambian leader has since warned that he will be forced to completely shut the bars and nightclubs if they continue to disregard the directive.

Zambia has recorded a surge in COVID-19 cases following the second wave which started in December. (Xinhua/NAN)

 


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