Here in Malawi the spread of coronavirus thankfully seems to be receding. Since April when the first cases were recorded, 5,861 people have tested positive and 182 have died – an average of just under one per day. The numbers peaked in late July / early August but for the past few weeks the new cases reported each day have usually been less than 10 and often less than 5. Of course, testing capacity is limited but there is no evidence of many people falling sick with coronavirus symptoms and the hospital wards that were prepared for covid patients remain mostly empty.
Despite the relatively low incidence of infections, there is no room for complacency in the midst of a global pandemic so the Malawi Government continues to urge that all recommended precautions are observed to inhibit the spread of the virus. In educational institutions, for example, these precautions are mandatory. Meanwhile Malawi is hard hit by the indirect effects of the virus with the economy suffering badly as a result of lack of tourism and business travel. In an already struggling economy it means that many people are pushed even further out to the edge. Finding a sustainable way forward was already a massive and multi-faceted challenge for Malawi. Now the problems are compounded by the effects of the pandemic. Malawians are not unrealistic about the extent of these challenges but their faith that God will hear their prayers and see them through is a constant inspiration.
Currently it is the situation in Scotland rather than in Malawi that is having the greatest impact on my own plans. I was scheduled to come to Scotland for an extended Christmas break, allowing time for church visits as well as a family Christmas. However, having taken counsel with family and colleagues we concluded that, in view of the escalating coronavirus situation, a visit to Scotland cannot be recommended for the foreseeable future. I must admit this has been rather disorienting and has had my head spinning at times. I have been travelling from Scotland, for short trips and longer ones, for many years but this is the first time I have been advised not to return.
I take consolation from the fact that I am in Zomba, very much a second home, rather than being stranded somewhere strange or unfamiliar. In fact, Zomba is possibly my favourite place to be in all the world (it is a close contest with certain spots on the west coast of Scotland). Once known as the most beautiful capital in the Commonwealth, I fell under its spell on first arrival 32 years ago and the spell has not broken yet. I am also fortunate to have many good friends and close collaborators around me so I am far from lonely.
At the same time, it is a wrench to be away from the family for longer than expected and especially poignant since I am missing the chance to meet our new grandson, Angus, who arrived at the end of August. I know I will feel very absent when it comes to his first Christmas. On the other hand, digital technology gives us the opportunity to connect and be together in a different way. I am very conscious that, unlike any previous generation, we can cross thousands of miles in an instant on our digital platforms. No cuddles, though! Which reminds me how important it is that we hold each other close during this journey through the pandemic.