By Moses Michael-Phiri

LILONGWE, Malawi

Malawi’s newly elected president has cancelled the country’s 56th Independence Day celebrations slated for Monday due to a surge in coronavirus cases.

Lazarus Chakwera also scaled down his inauguration ceremony scheduled for the same day, which was supposed to take place at a giant stadium in the capital, Lilongwe, but will instead be held at the Kamuzu Barracks in the city, where only 100 people will be invited.

“We will direct all the resources meant for the Independence Day celebrations to the fight against COVID-19,” Chakwera said in a televised speech.

Malawi broke away from British colonial rule on July 6, 1964.

The southern African nation, which held a court-sanctioned presidential election on June 23, which Chakwera won, has seen COVID-19 cases double in the past two weeks to nearly 1,600 with 17 deaths.

Ahead of the Independence Day celebrations and his inauguration ceremony, Chakwera had ordered that only 20,000 attendees be allowed at the 40,000-seat national stadium. He also ordered 100,000 face masks to be distributed in the capital on Independence Day.

“We’re in a worse situation today than we were three months ago. The coronavirus is spreading everywhere in Malawi, and it is spreading with the power to kill,” he said.

However, he noted that the country cannot afford to go into a lockdown because the people – most of whom live on a $1 a day – need to find something to eat on a daily basis.

In April, a top court struck down then-President Peter Mutharika’s 21-day lockdown order after a petition from the Human Rights Defenders Coalition argued that it would cause more harm than the impact of COVID-19.

Malawi has a population of about 19.13 million.

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