Our participants highlighted the complex interplay of the usefulness of the lockdown as a response to the Covid19 pandemic. All in all, our results are divided into two broad categories, namely; positive and negative characterization of the lockdown.
On one hand, some participants expressed positive sentiments on the lockdown; they highlighted in many ways how useful the lockdown was. Specifically, the lockdown was credited for containing an impending health disaster. Participants were of the view that an unmitigated approach would have overwhelmed the healthcare system and caused more death.
“We can already see what is happening in European countries. Look at Italy. They having thousands people dying every day. Soon it will be us. We don’t have a health care system that can handle the intensity of this virus, so I think the president did well to close down the country”
Participants were also concerned about the possibility of overwhelming the healthcare system in the country. They thus stated that the lockdown was useful in allowing government ‘buy time’ and ensuring that the already-struggling healthcare system was not overrun by several covid19 cases. They viewed this as a necessary step to curb the number of deaths that could result both from covidq9 itself and the lack of capacity to handle other illnesses.
“Do you think we have hospitals and ICU spaces to take in all the people who might need cares should they contract the virus? How prepared are we for this? Look, if they didn’t lockdown deaths would have piling up because our hospitals are too weak to absorb all the health care needs that would result from high number of cases, and we would see more deaths”
Our participants also observed that given the uncertainties surrounding the novel virus, locking down seemed like the most logically-sound response. This action was both cautious and gave authorities time to learn more about how the virus behaved in order for them to design appropriate responses. They argued that it would have been careless to maintain the status quo given the potential consequences of such an action.
“Nobody knew how the virus will behave, everybody all over the world was locking down because of the uncertainties surrounding this virus. So to me it makes sense that the first thing you do is lock down than gamble with the lives of people”
While there were sentiments in support of the lockdown, some of our participants remained critical of it. They were concerned about its application and the consequences resulting from it. Particularly, some participants pointed out that the lockdown closed down possibilities of raising income for the most vulnerable. They stated that their lives were dependent on the daily errands which included various economic activities such as vending, hawking, and doing part-time jobs. All these avenues of raising income were closed down and without any corresponding government support, their economic situation became dire.
“ I survive by vending, I sell tomatoes on the streets, that’s how I raise money to feed myself and my kids. I don’t have savings, this is how I survive. Look at me now, look how hungry we are. You think this is a logical thing to do? To starve us all out in the name of protecting the healthcare system?”
Not only that, others complained about the increasing threat of job losses because of the lockdown. Participants highlighted that several people within their circles were losing jobs at a rapid rate. This meant that most families were increasingly finding it difficult to meet their daily needs and poverty at household level was on the rise. They also pointed out that this trend was also detrimental to the government which losing ground to raise taxes necessary to maintain various social services functional in the country.
“companies are closing down and people are being let go. Unemployment is on the raise in the townships. People are struggling. Now, if companies are closing down, where will government find the money to fund health care, education, electricity? Where?”
The lockdown was also accused of contributing to the deterioration of mental health in the country owing to reduced human social interactions. Participants highlighted that Zambia societies were based on communal connections which people relied on for various forms of support. Cutting this off meant that people were left feeling isolated, stressed out and lonely.
“I have never felt like this before. I am not allowed to see my friends. I am not allowed to go to the bar and have a beer, talk about my problems to my friends. Ask for help where I can. I just feel so stressed locked down in this small space. These people are killing us with stress and loneliness.”
Participants also complained of the increased number of gender-based violence and sexual assault in their circles. They stated that the lockdown had caused a disruption in normal day-to-day lifestyle activities in society and thus family members were meant to stick together more than usual. This had the potential of causing resentment towards each other thus leading to more women falling victims of violence at the hands of their male counterparts. Vulnerable children were also said to be at higher risk of sexual assault given the constant presence of male family members in close proximate.
“Now we are hearing more of violence against women in the neighborhood. We are getting reports of excessing violence towards women. Its in the news every day. …This is not good. Also, look at our young girls, you think they are safe in these homes with their uncles, cousins brothers. You know the stories. What is happening is really sad”
The lockdown was also seen as an excuse for government to increase its repression against citizens especially those with dissenting voices. The city of Lusaka was heavily militarized with security officers using excessive force on citizens who were deemed to have broken the lockdown rules. While the ruling party was allowed to have gatherings, other political parties and civil societies were met with excessive police brutality if the dared to do the same. Several other pronouncements were made to intimidate dissenting voices on the pretext of maintaining the lockdown rules. Minus any physical oversight from citizens owing to the lockdown, abuse of resources by officials was said to be rampart particularly resources donated to the fight against Covid19
“this is just an excuse for them to silence the opposition and loot our resources. Look at how they beat up and arrested those guys last Friday night. All this militarization of our neighborhoods, men with guns patrolling our neighborhoods, for what? We know these people are stealing all the donations for the covid fight. It is all over the news and people are not even allowed to ask questions”
Further, Zambia had recorded a significantly low number of deaths as compared to other countries. By end of April 2020, the covid-related death count stood at 4. As such, most participants felt the virulence in Zambia did not justify the lockdown. They pointed out that deaths from pandemics was not new in Zambia as the country had previously suffered various contentious pandemics, most of which claimed several thousands of lives in a short period of time but were managed without lockdowns. The consequences of the lockdown when weighed against the death rate at the time seemed counterproductive.
“In the last 3 months since Corona started making headlines, the country has only seen 4 deaths, only 4. Cholera kills more people and it is equally contentious. So given 4 deaths and compared to the damage the lockdown is causing, I really thing this action is somehow stupid. The lockdown is killing us, not the virus”