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Key findings
  • More than three-fourths (78%) of Zambians consider themselves well informed about the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • More than one-third (35%) of Zambians report that someone in their household lost a job, business, or primary source of income as a result of the pandemic.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of Zambians say complying with the partial lockdown was “difficult” or “very difficult.” Even so, a large majority (80%) consider the restrictions necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19.
  • School closures that affected all communities have strong public support (71%), although most respondents (79%) say schools should have reopened more quickly.
  • A majority (70%) of Zambians say government assistance was distributed unfairly.
  • More than three-quarters (78%) of Zambians approve of the government’s performance in managing the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and an overwhelming majority (92%) say the government has done a good job of keeping the public informed.
  • While fewer than half (45%) of respondents say they trust the government to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, a majority (59%) say they are likely to try to get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available.
  • Slightly more than half (51%) of Zambians believe that prayer is more effective than a vaccine would be in preventing COVID-19 infection.
  • Almost three-quarters (74%) of citizens say a pandemic would not justify postponing elections or limiting political campaigns. In contrast, a majority say a public-health emergency would justify censoring the media (53%) and using security forces to enforce public health mandates (69%).
  • More than two-thirds (69%) of respondents also say they are worried that politicians in Zambia will use the pandemic as an opportunity to increase their power and authority.
  • Looking ahead, only two in 10 Zambians (22%) expect COVID-19 to be a “somewhat” or “very” serious problem for their country over the next six months. But almost twothirds (64%) would prioritize funding to prepare for health emergencies like COVID-19 over other health needs.

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.

Edward Chibwili

Edward Chibwili is a research fellow at the Institute of Economic and Social Research (INESOR), a research wing of the University of Zambia.