Government is today expected to announce new health guidelines that would include measures on public gathering, self-quarantine and promotion of behaviourial change to prevent the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).
Dr Matthews Kagoli of Public Health Institute of Malawi, which provides leadership in disease surveillance, research, prevention and control, said in an interview on Wednesday the announcements will follow a health cluster meeting earlier today.
But Kagoli said he could not give the additional measures against the virus ahead of the meeting.
He said Malawi has so far tested eight people—six in Blantyre and two in Lilongwe—for the coronavirus and the results have come out negative.
“We have tested eight people from high risk countries that had coughs or fever signs and all have come out negative. This does not mean we have tested everyone,” he said.
Figures from the Ministry of Health and Population indicate that as of March 17, 2020, 285 travellers were on surveillance for 14 days after landing at Kamuzu and Chileka international airports.
Chairperson of the Covid-19 epidemiological response team at College of Medicine, Dr John Phuka, in a separate interview on Wednesday, said there have been discussions in previous health cluster meetings to intensify self-quarantine, promotion of behaviour change and communication, among other areas.
He said today’s meeting will come up with a position on de-density of high crowding areas—including prisons, hospitals, schools and other gatherings.
Across the world, governments have closed schools, banned gatherings of more than 100 people and forced cancellation of public events and celebrations.
Globally, as of yesterday, Covid-19 has affected over 203 612 people, killing 8229 people while over 82 000 have recovered with Africa having over 400 confirmed cases. Malawi has no confirmed case of coronavirus so far.
Meanwhile, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (Salc) has asked the Malawi government in a statement to consider decongesting the country’s prisons as a preventive measure to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Although Malawi does not currently have any registered case of Covid-19, urgent holistic preventive measures are required focusing on the most vulnerable groups in our society, including prisoners. Without such preventive measures, Covid-19, once introduced, can rapidly spread in the country.
“It is a well-known fact that the Malawi Prisons are overcrowded with over 14 000 prisoners against a capacity of 5 000. Given the scale and the speed with which the Covid-19 virus has been spreading elsewhere, once the virus penetrates Malawi, our prisons will rapidly contribute to the number of infections, and our current prison conditions will result in much higher mortality rates than seen elsewhere.
“We call upon His Excellency the President to urgently exercise his prerogative powers under Section 89(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi to pardon some convicted offenders or grant stays of execution of sentences, reduce sentences and remit sentences in order to reduce congestion in prison,” reads the statement.
Salc said the President, when pardoning the prisoners, should give priority to those that are terminally ill, older persons, persons with TB and other chronic illnesses and those who have served a substantial part of their sentences.
Salc also has asked government to provide support to judiciary to conduct emergency camp courts at prisons during the next two weeks to enable them to consider release with or without bail of those on remand whose period in detention has exceeded the prescribed pre-trial custody time limits and have spent excessively long periods in detention pending judgement or sentencing and all cases where there are numerous adjournments, and those charged with petty offences.
Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) Victor Mhango supported Salc’s position, saying Malawi prisons were too congested and releasing the prisoners would be a preventative measure. Malawi Prison Service spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba said he saw the Salc statement, but the service would not respond at the moment.