Epidemiologist Dr Titus Divala has advised authorities to exercise caution on the proposal to re-open schools and the economy, saying any decision must be based on solid scientific evidence that ensures people’s safety.
He was reacting to a proposal by the National Planning Task Force on Covid-19, Education Sector which has recommended that schools, colleges and universities should re-open on July 13 this year.
Divala, who is also a member of the Society of Medical Doctors, noted that the epidemic may take much longer than the scientific understanding they previously had.
He said: “My key advice to authorities on the re-opening schools and the economy is that it is a decision that must be based on a solid scientific rationale. We need either enough evidence demonstrating that the risk of either infection, severe disease, or death is low or we need to put in place interventions that minimise these risks before jumping to reopen activities that attract large gatherings.”
He cited China, South Korea, Germany and Lebanon, which were reopening their economies after dealing with coronavirus, but have started registering a rise in cases, leading some to re-close the schools.
Added Divala: “It is, and will not be an easy call for any government. It needs serious precautions and careful assessment of public health harms and economic benefits.”
According to the epidemiologist, projections for Malawi show that nearly half of all severe illness require hospitalisation, and over 80 percent of those require intensive care while over 80 percent who may die are individuals aged 60 and above.
“If a government policy that protects these groups of people, using a scientifically and locally verified method, is in full implementation, we could consider that risk minimisation efforts are nearly sufficient,” he said.
In a separate interview, Presidential TaskfForce Committee on Covid 19 co-chairperson Dr John Phuka, likened the continued decision to ignore preventive measures to “people who deliberately want to face a lion even when they know that it will devour them”.
He said his team will scrutinise the proposal to reopen schools, but admonished politicians and musicians for ignoring preventive advice.
Said Phuka: “Ask politicians these difficult questions. These are people who want to be leaders, whichever government comes in, what responsibility do they have to govern our health? Do we have to trust them with the responsibility they want?
“For the task-force on education, it is better off that they have submitted the proposal, and we will analyse it. But musicians haven’t even submitted any proposal, they have just decided to ignore advice.”
He said Malawians need to be responsible for their lives.
“And I want to ask people, when you go to these rallies or [music] shows, do you care about your life? Because it’s like you see a lion, and instead of hiding, you go towards it. It will surely not spare you!” added Phuka.
As of Thursday, Malawi had recorded a cumulative 393 cases of coronavirus, including four deaths, and 51 recoveries, having tested 5900 samples in total.