The national flag flies at half mast, reflecting the sombre mood in Malawi after two Cabinet ministers, Sidik Mia and Lingstone Belekanyama, died of covid-19 this week. Though these are not the first covid deaths in the country, the fact that the pandemic has struck so close to the heart of government has caused great shock.
During the final months of 2020 it appeared that, for whatever reason, the coronavirus was not taking hold in Malawi in a big way. Precautionary measures were in place and numbers testing positive were very low – often below five per day.
The first couple of weeks of 2021 have seen a dramatic change, with both positive tests and fatalities rapidly increasing. The likely explanation is that the new strain of the virus that was detected in South Africa late last year has arrived in Malawi and is proving to be much more contagious and virulent than the earlier one.
It was bad timing for Malawi that the new strain of the virus appeared in South Africa just at the time when many Malawians who are working there travelled back home to Malawi for the Christmas holiday season. Many of the travellers tested positive for covid and it can hardly be surprising that it has also spread locally.
Malawi now faces many of the challenges, dilemmas and trade-offs that have vexed many other countries. These place exceptional demands on those in leadership, whether in government decision-making or in provision of healthcare. In Malawi, what is clear to everyone, from the President to the humblest villager, is that it is a time for faith – looking to God for salvation.