AD431: Zambians approve of government’s COVID-19 response despite questions about aid, vaccines

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Dispatches
2021
431
Edward Chibwili

Zambia recorded its first COVID-19 case on 18 March 2020. A week later, President Edgar Lungu closed all schools and universities, restaurants (except on a take-away basis), nightclubs, cinemas, and gyms; limited public gatherings to less than 50 people; suspended international flights except to and from Lusaka; ordered quarantining of travelers entering the country; and ordered mandatory mask-wearing in public (SATUCC, 2020; United Nations, 2020; United Nations Development Programme, 2020).

Students in examination classes (grades 7, 9, and 12) were allowed to return to schools on 1 June to ensure that end-of-year examinations continued as planned (SATUCC, 2020). Online learning platforms and lessons on television and local radio stations helped support continuity of learning for children in non-examination classes (Ministry of General Education, 2020; World Vision, 2020). However, in rural areas, such distance-learning measures were far from ideal as learners without television sets, radios, or Internet services could not access such lessons.

Schools reopened on 11 September, ending closures that had lasted longer than in most other countries in the region (World Health Organization, 2020).

Meanwhile, most sectors of the economy suffered, with job losses expected to be most pronounced in the informal sector, which employs almost 70% of Zambia’s workforce (United Nations, 2020; United Nations Development Programme, 2020; Zambia Statistics Agency, 2019).

As of 4 March 2021, Zambia had registered 80,687 cases of COVID-19 with 1,109 deaths in a population of about 17.9 million people (Zambia National Public Health Institute, 2021; Zambia Statistics Agency, 2020). The Zambian government is yet to acquire COVID-19 vaccines.

A new Afrobarometer survey in Zambia shows that a majority of citizens approve of the government’s performance in managing the response to the pandemic, including keeping the public informed. While they found it difficult to comply with partial lockdown restrictions, they believe that such measures, including school closures, were necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19.

More than one in three Zambians say their households lost income during the pandemic, and nine out of 10 report that they did not receive government assistance. A majority of citizens believe that the assistance was not fairly distributed.

Most citizens say the pandemic does not justify postponing elections or limiting political campaigning, but they support censoring the media or using security forces to ensure compliance with public health mandates.

The study also shows that most Zambians do not trust their government to ensure that COVID- 19 vaccines are safe, although more than half say they are likely to try to get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available. About half of Zambians would choose prayer over a vaccine to prevent getting COVID-19.