What is the impact of a pandemic on citizens’ willingness to sacrifice democratic principles? Using the novel COVID-19 pandemic as a case, I assess how the effects of COVID-19 influence Zambians’ willingness to sacrifice democratic principles through censorship of the media, postponement of elections, and the use of security forces to enforce public health mandates. I analyse data from the Round 8 Afrobarometer survey in Zambia (collected in 2020 from 1,200 adults), which included questions on COVID-19. Results of a multiple linear regression and a logistic regression suggest that Zambians’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic have an influence on their willingness to sacrifice democratic principles. Those who lost a job due to the pandemic are less willing to accept a sacrifice of democratic principles, while positive assessments of the government’s management of the pandemic and perceptions of the pandemic as serious increase people’s willingness to suspend democratic principles. The findings also suggest that Zambians’ trust in the president and their perceptions of the government as legitimate make them more willing to agree to forfeit a democratic principle, at least when the country is faced with a pandemic.