Amid fears of a third wave of Covid-19, health experts have called for extensive contact tracing and screening of community members surrounding Salima Sugar Company where 41 workers have tested positive for the virus.
The factory is surrounded by traditional authorities Khombedza, Mwanza and Makanjira in the district.
The experts argue that closing the factory alone is inadequate, as the Covid-19 strain at the facility might have originated from India where 22 out of the 41 local and foreign workers that tested positive recently came from.
On Monday, Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda ordered the closure of the company where 19 of 31 samples (61.3 percent) collected from the staff who arrived from India and 22 of 169 other staff (69 from India and 100 local staff) tested Covid-19 positive.
She said: “I further direct that all confirmed Covid-19 cases be placed under institutional isolation and that all others working at the factory be placed under institutional quarantine forthwith, at the cost of the company.
“It is further directed that the factory premises and environment be comprehensively fumigated at the cost of the company. Furthermore, it is recommended that those that will remain negative after 14 days’ quarantine, should be offered Covid-19 vaccination.”
However, while commending government for closing the factory, Society of Medical Doctors in Malawi (SMD), the Physicians Assistants Union of Malawi and an epidemiologist observed that government must do more to ensure that community members who may have interacted with the factory workers are traced.
SMD president Victor Mithi said mandatory testing was ideal for all contacts of workers at the factory, warning the third wave of the pandemic could be fast approaching.
He said: “Salima District Hospital team should follow up on all families and do mandatory tests on all of them. All those found to be positive must be put in isolation.
“It is difficult to tell whether the third wave is here or not, but obviously with what is happening in Salima, it could be the beginning of the third wave. But may be in two to three weeks we may see the impact of that, but the chances that the third wave is coming are very high.”
Mithi said there is need for the country to prepare its health system, but was hopeful that with the experience acquired so far, facilities should be able to deal with the pandemic.
On his part, Physicians Assistants Union of Malawi president Solomon Chomba also said the ministry, through Salima District Health Office, should conduct a mass Covid-19 screening among all company staff and families to identify all positive cases.
Epidemiologist Titus Divala, while commending the minister for closing the factory, outlined some of the steps which he said may add value and speed-up the outbreak management.
He said: “Let’s ensure that all workers are screened to rapidly identify all who have the virus. Then test all primary and secondary contacts of the identified cases, including families and surrounding community members.”
Salima District Health Office spokesperson Angela Sakwata said they were currently doing contact tracing, and that a team was deployed to meet traditional leaders from areas surrounding the factory.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango said if processing is prioritised in South Africa, the results may be out after this weekend.
Meanwhile, Tanzania has also imposed strict rules on those returning from affected countries.