Twists and turns have characterised the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) response with 441 people temporarily held at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre upon arrival from South Africa awaiting test results escaping without knowing their status, authorities have confirmed.
In an interview after a weekly media briefing on Wednesday Blantyre District director of health and social services Dr. Gift Kawalazira said by 7am on Wednesday, the people had left the stadium.
He attributed the situation to system failure, saying the stadium was a last-minute decision after the initial plan to host them in teacher training colleges (TTCs) failed to work out due to lack of funds.
Kawalazira faulted the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) for delaying to provide food to the repatriated Malawians hosted at the Kamuzu Stadium, saying it was the disaster response department that is looking into the welfare of the returnees.
He said: “Our role is to just screen them. But as the President [Peter Mutharika] declared a State of Disaster, Dodma is the department handling the welfare of the returnees. They [Dodma] have to explain their side too.”
But Dodma spokesperson Chipiliro Khamula said his department was not well-placed to comment because the Covid-19 response was multi-sectoral.
In a related development, two of the eight positive cases from another group of arrivals from South Africa who escaped institutional quarantine on Monday night resurfaced at the Kameza Isolation Centre in Blantyre on Wednesday, according to health officials.
Before being taken to the stadium on Monday evening, 26 other returnees also escaped at Mwanza Border Post after being tested and while waiting for their results, he said.
On the two positive escapees from Kameza Isolation Centre, Kawalazira said they resurfaced on Wednesday and handed themselves to health authorities. He said the duo claimed to have gone to buy food and other necessities within the surrounding communities.
But he cast doubt on the duo’s explanation, saying he suspected they did not find transport to their respective homes; hence, their decision to return to the centre
Meanwhile, about 280 other Malawians are expected to arrive in the country today and tomorrow through Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in Lilongwe.
The Malawians expected at KIA were detained in South Africa and are travelling on two specially-cleared commercial flights hired by the South African Government, according to Ministry of Transport and Public Infrastructure spokesperson James Chakwera.
Commenting on the returnees coming through KIA, Kawalazira said: “These peoplw will arrive through the cargo area and they will board an MDF [Malawi Defence Force] truck straight to Nalikule Teachers Training College in Lilongwe.”“These people will
He said they will be tested both upon their arrival and at the TTC where those who will test positive will be taken to isolation centres while those negative will be given transport money and face masks.
Kawalazira said those dispatched to their respective homes will be followed up by district health personnel in their district.
Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 co-chairperson Dr. John Phuka is on record as having told The Nation that Malawi’s preparedness in dealing with the pandemic is an ongoing process.
He described the capacity to test at Mwanza Border Post as a big step in the fight against Covid-19, saying it ensures that all returnees are tested and their status known before proceeding to their respective homes.
On what happens to those who escaped from the stadium, Mwanza Border Post and Kameza Isolation Centres, Kawalazira said the health authorities have details of all arrivals; hence, knowing how to trace them despite being a risk to the public.
Malawi planned a 21-day national lockdown from midnight April 18 to midnight May 9 as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of Covid-19. However, the lockdown announced by Minister of Health Jappie Mhango did not work out following an injunction obtained by two concerned citizens and some civil society groups.
Most of the Covid-19 cases recorded have been imported from countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania with a few local transmissions.
Malawi reported its first cases on April 2.