Police and health authorities have launched a manhunt for eight people who on Monday night escaped from Kameza Isolation Centre in Blantyre after testing positive for the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic upon arrival from South Africa.
Blantyre District director of health services Dr. Gift Kawalazira confirmed in an interview yesterday that the eight people were among the 15 returnees who tested positive on Sunday and were at the centre pending homes repatriation to their respective.
He said: “Eight of the people who tested escaped during the night of yesterday [Monday] and we are working with police to track them. They were at the isolation centre in Kameza.”
Kawalazira said he is positive the escapees will be traced and put on quarantine to reduce the risk of infection to the population.
He said the other returnees are being repatriated to their respective homes after undergoing tests on the understanding that they will observe a 14-day self-isolation. He said district health offices (DHOs) in their respective homes are under instruction to make follow-ups as a precautionary measure.
In recent weeks, some Malawians feeling the economic impact of Covid-19 have been leaving South Africa and Zimbabwe. Upon arrival, they are being screened at Kamuzu Stadium before being released to their homes if found negative. However, those whose results are positive are being referred to isolation centres.
In a separate interview yesterday, Ministry of Health (MoH) spokesperson Joshua Malango said the stadium is a temporary holding centre where returnees are being kept pending laboratory test results.
He said currently there are eight isolation centres and institutions such as schools. But he could not give a breakdown of the number of the centres by district or region as he asked for more time.
Efforts to also talk to the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 co-chairperson Dr. John Phuka proved futile as he did not pick our calls despite several attempts while his co-chairperson Joseph Mwanamvekha, who is also Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, was out of reach.
On the other hand, MoH chief director of health services Dr. Charles Mwansambo promised to get back to us for clarity on the repatriation process and arrangements. However, he had not done so by press time at 8pm last evening.
During a visit to Kamuzu Stadium yesterday morning, some of the returnees were seen eating food bought from either vendors outside the stadium or from eateries at the nearby Chichiri Shopping Centre.
Others were overheard shouting and expressing their anger that authorities were not giving them food since their arrival on Monday evening.
Despite a heavy police presence around the stadium, some of the people were seen freely leaving the stadium to either buy food or get it from their relations who visited the site.
Other relations were also seen entering the stadium with some giving each other bear hugs.
All the returnees entered the country through Mwanza Border Post.
Inside the stadium, there were 12 buses parked on the artificial turf. No social distancing was observed and at the gate, only a bucket of water and soap were provided for hand washing.
Apart from more than 50 armed Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers stationed both inside and outside the stadium stationed both inside and outside the stadium, there was also presence of immigration officers and some health personnel.
In an interview, one of the people we found from Machinga, who identified himself as Grant Nhlema, said he decided to return home because the situation in South Africa was becoming unbearable.
“For some of us that relied on piecework, it was hard to access a proper meal. Only those that have permanent employment could eat,” he said.
Earlier, Mwanza Border Post immigration spokesperson Pasqually Zulu said since Saturday, 17 hired buses crossed into Malawi, carrying 785 people.
“On Saturday, four buses first arrived where there was a total of 86 people coming from South Africa and 94 from Zimbabwe. Thereafter, nine buses arrived during the night of Sunday with 423 passengers all from South Africa,” he said.
Zulu said on Monday evening, four more buses arrived that had a total of 182 passengers all from South Africa. He said the buses have been carrying few passengers to observe social distancing as a precautionary measure.
Currently, South Africa has 24 647 Covid-19 cases with 533 deaths and 13 730 recoveries while Zimbabwe has 56 cases, four deaths and 25 recoveries.
Malawi’s Covid-19 cases stand at 101 with four deaths and 60 active cases since the first cases were reported on April 2.