Malawi on Thursday reported a record 102 new coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic cases within 24 hours with Malawian returnees from South Africa and Zimbabwe accounting for 92 cases. This means the country now has 203 cases.
Briefing journalists in Lilongwe on Thursday after a meeting of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, co- chairperson Dr. John Phuka said the new cases have provided lessons and that they will limit the number of people entering the country from Covid-19 hotspots.
He said in the past week, 17 buses arrived in the country from South Africa and Zimbabwe with 757 passengers.
By Thursday, only results for 475 samples were ready and showed that 92 were Covid-19 positive.
Giving a breakdown of the 102 new cases, Phuka said apart from the 92 returnees, seven cases are truck drivers tested at Mwanza Border Post while three—whose details were not provided—are from Lilongwe.
Malawi reported its first Covid-19 case on April 2 this year and only reached the 100-case mark on May 24 also largely due to 15 cases among arrivals from South Africa.
In his presentation at the briefing, Phuka repeatedly said “sorry” for what he called mishaps in what happened in the management of the mass arrivals from South Africa in Blantyre.
He particularly apologised to the returnees who felt traumatized, saying the system was overwhelmed by the numbers.
Said Phuka: “We have now formed a special task force within the task force which will be responsible for rapid response. We will ensure that upon arrival returnees are handled with care and tested on time.”
Upon arrival in Mwanza, the returnees were taken to Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre to wait for their laboratory test results. However, all 441 abandoned the place without knowing their status.
Task force members who attended on Thursday’s seven-hour meeting at Bingu International Convention Centre said it was a moment of reflection as they assesses Malawi’s Covid-19 response and the economy which Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Joseph Mwanamvekha, who is co-chairperson of the task force, said was facing an uncertain future as revenue collection has drastically dwindled.
One task force member also said laxity displayed in the management of the returnees from South Africa and Zimbabwe was a hot issue.
Said the member: “The new cases are a case of negligence. Had we done what was right, things could have been different. What I liked the most is that everyone [in the meeting] was free to call a spade a spade and at the end of the day, we agreed on something more sensible.”
Other task force members present at the briefing, who included trade unionist Luther Mambala and Farmers Union of Malawi president Prince Kapondamgaga, expressed regret but promised that things will improve.
Kapondamgaga said it is too early to question the performance of the task force based on one incident.
During the briefing, Phuka also expressed concern over the leakage of data from one of the testing laboratories in Blantyre, warning that they will take action against those responsible for the misconduct.
He also said the task force has resolved to intensify monitoring of all cases of Covid-19, especially the majority who are in self-quarantine.
Phuka, a public health specialist himself, said they are considering institutional quarantine only for cases with symptoms for easy management.
The task force also agreed to depoliticise Covid-19 and resolved that only Phuka, not Minister of Health Jappie Mhango, will be responsible for announcing the status updates of cases.
Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Dr. Dan Namarika also disputed social media claims that some tests were conducted in transit, saying only screening was done to check body temperature. In a related development, 300 Malawians who were detained in South Africa are expected to arrive through Kamuzu International Airport today and tomorrow on specially cleared flights chartered by the South African Government, according to Ministry of Transport and Public Infrastructure.