The Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 says there is a possibility that the country is moving towards a fourth wave following a rise in positive confirmed cases in the past weeks.
In a Covid-19 update on Tuesday, the task force’s co-chairperson Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, who is also Minister of Health, said the country’s three major cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu have in the past seven days been reporting increased positive cases, including admissions which signal an impending wave.
She said: “Let me mention that the country is experiencing a rise in new confirmed cases, pointing to the possibility that we might be entering the fourth wave of the pandemic.
“The Ministry of Health is assuring all Malawians that it is doing everything possible to make sure that we can handle provisions of services even during the fourth wave.”
Chiponda said Malawi is yet to isolate the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) identified by South African scientists three weeks ago from the positive cases the country has had so far further urging the citizenry to go for vaccination to protect themselves.
In recent weeks, scientists have been indicating that the Omicron variant may drive further waves and that its high number of mutations may lead the virus to evade immunity.
In an interview on Tuesday, Malawi University of Science and Technology microbiologist Gama Bandawe agreed with Chiponda that the country is moving towards a fourth wave, especially looking at the rising trend in positive cases.
“Quite simply, we can assume that we are at the beginning of the fourth wave of infections. Usually, indicators are an increase in positive cases and also bearing in mind that we cannot be removed from what is happening around us,” he said.
While pointing out that the fourth wave will definitely hit the country this month, Bandawe said the emergence of the Omicron variant is another sign that a new wave is looming as new variants tend to drive new infections.
He said it is, therefore, important for Malawi to ensure that the fourth wave is not driven by imported new cases, adding that at this point, authorities should revive strict enforcement of existing measures to boost people’s protection.
Bandawe also stressed the need for people to get vaccinated.
He said: “There is need to ensure that a lot of people are vaccinated before infections reach a high rate. On the other hand, we will also need to deal with vaccine scepticisms that have characterised the vaccine rollout.”
In a separate interview, epidemiologist and infectious disease expert Titus Divala said the small day to day increase in positive cases also point to the fact that the country is moving towards the fourth wave of the pandemic.
He said: “The increase in number of cases would ordinarily be considered normal, but reading that together with last year’s situation, it points to a new wave. Just to put in context, our waves often start at the end of December and carry on to February and another starts at the end of April.”
When asked on vaccine adequacy in the country, Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe asked for more time to compile data from all districts.
But he is on record as having told our sister newspaper Nation on Sunday on December 5 2021 that government is pondering on making vaccination mandatory and that the ministry sought guidance from Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda.
While the AG confirmed being approached by the ministry and that he has since given direction on the matter, he told Nation on Sunday that he could not disclose the opinion.
According to scientists, the Omicron variant has the potential to render existing vaccines incapable of protecting people from infection.
In an earlier statement, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the Omicron variant has been classified as a variant of concern (VOC) and that there is ongoing research to determine whether it is more contagious and if it evades vaccines, among others.
Malawi already has three recognised VOCs as classified by the WHO, namely Delta or B.1.617.2) first identified in India, Beta or B.1.351 identified in South Africa and Alpha or B.1.1.7 first diagnosed in the United States of America.
The characteristics of the VOCs include increased transmissibility and secondary attack for Alpha and Delta.
Malawi has so far administered over 1.4 million vaccines translating to about 3.2 percent of the population. The country targets to vaccinate 11 million people or 60 percent of the country’s critical population by December 2022.