Epidemiologist Titus Divala has warned that Malawi is sitting on a time bomb following the escape of 441 returnees from Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre last week after returning from South Africa.
The epidemiologist has warned that the returnees, who escaped without knowing their status, could infect about 164 000 cases in just one month.
Writing on matters surrounding Covid-19 yesterday, Divala said based on the behaviour of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (Sars-Cov-2), one person can infect 2.5 persons in five days, which may lead to 406 getting infected by the end of 30 days.
But while corroborating the fears raised by Divala, especially that many among the group tested positive to Covid 19, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 co-chairperson Professor John Phuka said such mathematical modelling omits interventions put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus.
The returnees escaped from Kamuzu Stadium holding centre last week, claiming that government did not accord them good treatment.
Divala said: “You may have already heard that 46 out of the initial 102 samples tested positive on the first day, and a further 65 positives were announced on 29 May 2020. These huge numbers against a total of 400 simply means that almost all of the individuals will in a matter of days likely become positive, they interacted in a closed environment with intense mixing for a couple of days.
“Based on the behaviour of Sars-Cov-2, if 400 positives enter the population, the way they did, the total count will become 1 000 in just one week and 162 400 in just one month. And each of those, if not isolated, will go on with the same exponential multiplication journey, over and over.”
Apart from accusing the State of failing to provide adequate and timely support to the individuals, he pleaded with the returnees to report to their nearest health facilities to get tested and be advised on isolation or quarantine procedures.
Said Divala: “The State has failed us all, our brothers and sisters too have slipped and abandoned their duty station. It is now our turn as citizens to support them and keep our community safe. If this one is your relative or they have moved to your location, consequences are huge and personal.”
In an interview yesterday, Phuka said Divala is expressing the likelihood of the situation, but added that a number of interventions are in place to trace all the escapees so that the spread of the virus is mitigated.
He said: “That is what we call mathematical modelling where people express the likelihood of something happening, but it omits the interventions put in place. Right now, we are encouraging continued quarantine and control.
“For those who escaped, we continue engaging the public and the media, so that they should come back. We are also going to do a survey alongside this to actually see the cases as we progress.”
Phuka added that the escapees provided contacts, but stressed the role of the media in spreading the message so that people nationwide reach out to health surveillance assistants and other health workers once they meet the said persons.
Last week, Blantyre District director of health and social services Dr. Gift Kawalazira faulted the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) for delaying to provide food to the repatriated Malawians.
On what happens to those who escaped from the stadium, Mwanza Border Post and Kameza Isolation Centres, he said the health authorities have details of all arrivals; hence, they know how to trace them despite being a risk to the public.
By Saturday, the country had recorded 279 Covid 19 cases, including four deaths and 42 recoveries. At least 4 490 Covid-19 tests had been conducted by Saturday.
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.