Experts have bemoaned the lack of quarantine facilities in border posts and the continued opening of the country’s airports at a time when Covid-19 cases are on the rise as factors frustrating to contain the pandemic.
Yesterday, Malawi registered 83 new Covid-19 cases and one death, according to an update from the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19. From the cases, only five were imported, indicating that local transmissions are on the rise.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 co-chairperson Dr John Phuka said despite more Malawians returning from South Africa and other countries for the festive season amid threats of a Covid-19 second wave, the country does not have quarantine facilities in its border posts.
He said returnees are encouraged to observe a 14-day self-quarantine after being tested on arrival.
Said Phuka: “We have never had quarantine facilities in the borders even when Covid-19 was at its peak. When returnees arrive at the border, we check if they have Covid-19 testing certificates. If they do not have, we collect their samples.
“We get their contacts and we let them proceed to their respective destinations. We advise them to observe the 14-day quarantine, noting that we will give them findings.”
But speaking in Mulanje on Tuesday during a media meeting, Ministry of Health Public Health Institute of Malawi national influenza surveillance focal person Limbikani Chaponda said although the country has sealed its borders to control the spread of Covid-19, it is still at risk of being hit by the new variants being registered in other countries.
He said: “Whereas we can say that we have started experiencing the second wave of Covid-19 like most countries across the world are, ours is still the old strain that we started recording in April this year.
“However, we might be at a disadvantage because we have only closed borders and not airports. We have people coming from countries that have registered the new Covid-19 strains such as South Africa, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.”
Chaponda said although these returnees travel with Covid-19 negative certificates, indicating that they got tested on departure, anything could happen in transit or from the day they had the test to change their status.
“The most worrying thing is that we might end up having all the different variants being registered in other countries at once,” he said.
Besides sealing the country’s borders for the next two weeks to control the spread of Covid-19 which has been on the rise these past two weeks, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 also banned gatherings of over 100 people.
Announcing the country’s new Covid-19 measures last Tuesday, Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda, who is also co-chair of the task force, said the new strains of Covid-19 are dangerous and government had to make bold decisions to control its spread.
She said: “Being the festive season, more people are expected to visit the country and some will also be holding large gatherings. This gives room for the spread of the virus.”
Phuka, however, said it is incumbent upon communities and individuals to observe Covid-19 preventive and containment measures to avoid contracting the virus as local transmission cases surge.
He said the burden of the pandemic will be huge if Malawians relax in observing preventive and containment measures of the pandemic, especially during the festive period when people tend to travel and gather a lot.
Meanwhile, Health and Rights Education Programme executive director Maziko Matemba has described the lack of quarantine facilities in borders as worrisome.
In an interview yesterday, he said most returnees do not report back to health authorities after the stipulated 14-day period; hence, putting communities at risk.
Said Matemba: “As CSOs [civil society organisations] we want government to swiftly address this issue. The best alternative is to use existing structures at the borders or nearby health facilities. Most travellers do not comply with self-quarantine requirement, which is worrisome.”
In a December 25 2020 Covid-19 update, the task force also acknowledged that some returnees are giving incorrect contact information, making contact tracing, follow-ups and care difficult.
The task force further said should returnees fail to contact local health authorities for their test results, they will announce their names through the mass media to facilitate tracing them.
But Phuka, while admitting challenges in contact tracing, said they are making progress with some of the returnees. He also said they are involving local health authorities in communities where the returnees stay.
In recent weeks, Malawians living in South Africa have been returning to the country following strict Covid-19 preventive measures implemented in that country.
Meanwhile, daily updates from the task force have attributed the rise in number of imported cases to the returnees, most of whom arrive through Mwanza Border.