Zambia imposes curfew, travel restrictions in cholera fight
Johannesburg – Zambian authorities have imposed a curfew and are set to impose travel restrictions later this week as they battle the cholera outbreak which has claimed over 50 lives since the beginning of October.
On Monday afternoon the Zambian minister of health is expected to announce a spike in suspected cases to 137, up from the 90 recorded on Sunday, bringing the total number of those effected in the capital Lusaka to well over 2,000, the Zambian Observer reported.
In an effort to prevent the spread of the disease to other parts of the country, the government is set to impose travel restrictions, focusing on travel into and out of Lusaka.
A seven-day curfew was imposed on Kanyama Compound on Sunday in the capital, resulting in the lowest number of cases reported there despite many residents defying the curfew which ordered residents to stay indoors from 6pm.
Local authorities ordered the closure of bars the same day while church services were also cancelled.
Last week, the military was also directed by Lungu to help fight the spread of the waterborne disease.
Three of South African retailer Shoprite’s Hungry Lion fast-food restaurants were also forcibly closed last week after testing positive for the bacterium that causes cholera.
Local government minister Vincent Mwale confirmed that inspectors had found contaminated food at three Hungry Lion branches in Lusaka.
Initially, the outbreak was attributed to contaminated water from shallow wells.
However, subsequently, the spread of the deadly disease was linked to hygiene conditions in the restaurants and the manner in which employees from infected areas were handling the food.
The disease originally affected mostly densely populated areas of Lusaka with poor sanitation but has subsequently spread to lower-density areas.
Cholera spreads rapidly and can kill within hours if not treated with oral rehydration, solutions and antibiotics. Symptoms include acute watery diarrhoea.
As of last week, neighbouring Malawi has registered 157 cases and four deaths, its health minister said.
But the fight against cholera has also turned political with Zambian President Edgar Lungu rejecting an offer of help by Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND) opposition party.
Hichilema announced on Sunday that his party had resolved to join efforts with the government by contributing materially to the epidemic.
“We have put in place a team that will be working in consultation with government health authorities that are combating this cholera outbreak,” said Hichilema.
“As a party, we have decided to commit ourselves to providing material support in fighting this outbreak which has so far claimed over 50 lives.
“Further to our discussions with health authorities, we are waiting to hear from them on what we must make readily available to urgently support life. A team has been put together for this purpose,” Hichilema added.
Lungu responded by telling the health ministry to accept help from anyone else but not the UPND.
This snub was met with derisive criticism in the media, with one journalist accusing Lungu of being “happy with the cholera outbreak as he thinks it’s diverting people’s attention from his corruption and failure to run the country properly”.
Relations between the two men have gone from bad to worse following Hichilema's arrest in April on allegations of treason after he was accused of endangering the president's life when he failed to give way for a presidential motorcade.
The opposition leader was subsequently freed in August after the state prosecutor dropped the charges. Nevertheless the judge warned him that he could be arrested again at any time.