The Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 has announced the sealing of the country’s borders and banned gatherings of over 100 people for the next two weeks to control the spread of Covid-19.
Announcing the measures in Lilongwe yesterday, Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda, who is also co-chair of the task force, expressed shock over the fast rising cases of Covid-19, most of which are being imported.
She said the new strain of Covid-19 is dangerous and government had to make bold decisions to control its spread, failing which it would “hit Malawi hard”.
Said the minister: “Being the festive season, more people are expected to come into the country and people will also be holding large gatherings. This gives room for spread of the virus.
“To control that and ensure that we protect people, the borders will be closed for the next two weeks and public gatherings should not exceed more than 100 people.”
Chiponda, who was accompanied by the task force co-chair Dr John Phuka and Minister of Information Gospel Kazako, also confirmed that Minister of Labour Ken Kandodo, who is a member of the task force, has tested positive to Covid-19 and is receiving treatment at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH). She, however, said his condition is improving.
In his remarks, Kazako stressed that the new Covid-19 strain is dangerous and is spreading at a faster rate.
He said returning citizens will still be allowed into the country but will have to be quarantined for sometime before being released into the community.
Said Kazako: “In other countries, the situation is worse compared to here and the disease is spreading fast locally because of the people that are coming into the country. Police and other security agents will be vigilant to ensure that only returning citizens get into the country through our border posts.”
He called on chiefs, the clergy and other community leaders to ensure that people do not hold big gatherings in the two weeks that the ban will be effective.
Asked if the travel ban applies to airports, Phuka said they will remain open as it is easier to track people arriving through them.
He said most of the cases being reported are of travellers that came in through the land borders.
Phuka also touched on five potential vaccines that have been developed to fight Covid-19 but are yet to be approved by World Health Organisation.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Defenders Coalition chairperson Gift Trapence has warned government against closing the borders and banning gatherings without giving people notice.
He said some people were already in transit or had already spent money towards planned travels and therefore, it does not make sense to bar them from entering the country.
“Government should not be surprised if it is dragged to court over the ban,” warned Trapence.
On Monday, an update by the task force signed by Phuka indicated that imported cases of Covid-19 were dominating, with 38 new ones reported on Monday against three cases of local transmissions, bringing the total number of reported cases to 41.
The imported cases were identified among 302 Malawians who returned from South Africa by bus through Mwanza Border Post.
Reads the update: “We have observed a high positivity rate among bus travellers in the most recent two batches of returnees. Risk of disease spread on the buses is high such that those who test negative at the border may be in incubation period and carrying the virus.”
Cumulatively, the country has recorded 6 202 cases, including 187 deaths. From the cumulative cases, 1 275 are imported infections and 4 927 are local transmissions.
On the other hand, 5 664 cases have recovered while 76 are still being investigated. Authorities have also indicated that 107 were lost to follow-up.
According to the statement, out of the total active cases, two were admitted to KCH.
Public health expert Dr Titus Divala told The Nation on Monday that the rise in the cases is not a second wave of the pandemic currently being experienced in other countries.
He said the small random rises the country is currently seeing could just be part of normal and expected fluctuations.
Malawi reported its first case of Covid-19 on April 2 this year. However, the country did not impose a lockdown as initially planned following a public outcry that culminated into a court order that blocked implementation of a 21-day national lockdown.