Thousands of vendors in the northern town of Mzuzu on Thursday marched to the city council’s offices protesting against the shutdown.
They brandished banners with slogans such as: “Lockdown more poisonous than corona” and “We’d rather die of corona than of hunger”.
Council spokesman MacDonald Gondwe said: “They came to our offices, but they did not present any documents, so we are not in a position to comment.”
In Ndirande township in the commercial capital, Blantyre, vendors at the country’s largest market said the lockdown order would be devastating.
“In the case of us vendors who live from hand-to-mouth, it would cripple us,” Chancy Widoni, chairman of a 5,000-strong vendor group, told the AFP news agency.
“If we close the market for even one day, then we will not be able to feed our families,” he said.
President Peter Mutharika has announced a 21-day lockdown starting on Sunday to contain the spread of the new coronavirus which has killed two people in the southeast African country.
Mutharike warned that the “lockdown may be extended” if circumstances warrant.
“I would like to urge you to fully comply with the measures because they are for the good of our country,” he said.
So far, 16 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Malawi, mainly in the main cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe, the government said this week.
Meanwhile, the civil rights organisation Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) is seeking a court order to stop the government from implementing the lockdown.
The group said its action is based on the government’s failure to announce any measures to cushion the poor during the lockdown. Malawi is one of the poorest countries on the continent where more than half of the population live below the poverty threshold.