Since the first case of COVID-19 on 18 March 2020, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has confirmed over 17,916 cases with 364 deaths (case fatality rate of 2 per cent) as of 7 December 2020. The number of districts reporting COVID-19 infections has increased from 68 in September to 96, out of 116 countrywide, by end of November. The capital Lusaka, Copperbelt and Ndola districts continue to report the highest transmission. The increase is attributed to increased testing capacity, with an average of 4,000 daily tests. Test positivity remains at less than 1 per cent, according to MOH. However, testing capacity is still centralized, with most provinces not having supplies in stock to sustain testing on the available platforms. Health partners are calling for increased surveillance and vigilance, to mitigate against a potential second wave. Pandemic fatigue and COVID-19 denial is reportedly contributing to the low compliance by the public on preventative and social distancing measures.
The Ministry of General Education has engaged in regular monitoring to ensure compliance to health prevention measures in learning institutions. Since the opening of schools in September, the authorities have reported a reduction in new infections among the learners and teachers. According to a study conducted by VVOB-Education for Development NGO in September, to assess learning outcomes of school children during the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 67 per cent of learners in grade 3 to 5 are attending class. Out of these, at least 16 per cent of the students have dropped a reading level (E&S: 38.346 learners), while 10 per cent lost skills in addition, 7 per cent in subtraction, 12 per cent in multiplication and 6 per cent in division.
According to the acute food insecurity analysis in Zambia released in December, it is estimated that around 1.42 million people (22 per cent of the analysed population) were facing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above) between July and September 2020, despite increased crop production in most areas. This includes 1.24 million people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and nearly 190,000 people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Although the price of maize has been on a decline since the start of the 2020/2021 consumption year, it still remains above the Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Despite the good harvest of 2020, the food security situation could deteriorate when more households will rely on the market for food, in the midst of the kwacha depreciation and high job losses in the formal and informal sectors due to COVID-19. It is projected that nearly 2 million people will be severely food insecure from October 2020 to March 2021.
The 2020/2021 rainfall season, which coincides with the projected period, has been forecast to be above normal in most of Southern Africa. Flooding, however, is also expected to increase, thereby affecting most of the household that live in flood-prone areas in the north and northeastern parts of the country.
This comes at a time when the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) has reported an infestation of the African Migratory Locusts in 14 districts across Central, Southern and Western province, threatening food insecurity in the coming months. The Ministry of Agriculture and partners, FAO and International Red Cross are responding to the situation. More than 22,000 hectares have been surveyed in the Kasava, Simahala and Subilo plains along the Zambezi River. In addition, MOA and partners procured PPEs, chemicals and motorized sprayers and distribution to affected districts is under way. The Meteorological Department of Zambia has reported normal to heavy rains from November to March 2021, which create conducive breeding grounds for the locusts. Zambia’s planting season is underway and with concerns that farmers are unwilling plant for fear of the impact of the locusts on households food security.