COVID-19 is a pandemic putting everyone in the world at risk. Mozambique, which towards the end of April had reported 65 cases, might seem to have got off lightly. Schools had been closed, visas suspended, and public events limited even before the first case had been confirmed.

Since the state of emergency was declared on April 1, I have not left home. I am in my last year at university, studying International Relations and Diplomacy, but there are no online courses to follow while I am self-isolating because the university decided it would be unfair on those who could not afford the data charges.

The news shows that even under the state of emergency, and with the authorities appealing for everyone to stay at home, people are still going out on to the streets. As a result, there have been calls on social media, mainly from the more privileged members of society, for a total lockdown. But a total lockdown is hard in a developing country where the government has no plan to feed its people when they cannot work.

There are many who wake up each day needing to sell something in order to have a meal on the table. Each day, women walk through the city with a basin on their head selling produce to get enough money to buy food for that day. They don’t know if they will make enough to feed their children, but they have no other option. Many people sell used clothes on the streets of the capital Maputo to support their families. How can we tell them to stay at home?

It is difficult to practise social distancing in a country that has been racked by two devastating cyclones in the past year, where most people work in the informal sector and more than one in four suffers from chronic food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Social distancing is something only the privileged few can do.

Conscious of this reality, the government has ordered people to wear masks outside. This has stimulated the production of hand-made masks using African prints. At least some tailors will have the bread on the table as a result of this.

The virus has made me understand my privilege and see how difficult the life of Mozambicans is, with or without coronavirus. Many people may avoid being infected by the virus, but they are not immune to poverty and hunger.

Eunica Beatriz Riquixo is a member of the Common Futures Conversations community.

 

For more interesting perspectives, explore the Living with coronavirus full collection.