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46 Covid-19 positive cases on the loose

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Joshua Malango

About 46 of the 400 returnees from South Africa, that escaped from Kamuzu stadium, in Blantyre—where they were being kept awaiting Covid-19 test results— have tested positive, a Blantyre Dream Molecular Biology Laboratory Covid-19 result summary report that we have seen indicates.

The report, dated May 26 2020, that was reportedly reviewed and approved by Dr Richard Luhanga, shows that 104 samples were taken to the laboratory and that out of those, 46 tested positive.

Co-Chairperson of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 Dr John Phuka said he was yet to see the said results as they need to be verified by the Ministry of Health before they are released to the public.

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He, however, said he cannot rule out the authenticity of the document.

“Dream is one of the four testing centres in Blantyre. I have seen the document but I have not received it officially. The ministry would be in a position to confirm it,” he said.

On Wednesday, hell broke loose at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre when all the about 400 Covid-19 suspects that were being temporarily held there escaped from the facility.

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When we rushed to the scene, we established that the breakout started taking place in the wee hours of yesterday.

Some of the returnees were seen jumping over the wall of the stadium while passing each other items like bags and pails while police officers watched.

“The conditions are poor inside; there is no proper hygiene and privacy. The tents that were mounted for us are not fit for human occupation. We are not animals,” said one of the returnees who claimed he was from Mangochi.

Spokesperson in the Ministry of Health Joshua Malango, confirmed the development saying: “We are still processing all results and all cases will be tracked.”

He, however, did not respond to our questionnaire when asked on the circumstances that led to the escape.

National Police Spokesperson James Kadadzera said they have instituted an enquiry into the matter.

But a police officer on the scene, who opted for anonymity, complained of lack of coordination in the manner in which the returnees are being handled.

He said they failed to contain the group, alleging they were not provided with personal protective equipment.

“We were overwhelmed; it is physically impossible to control such a crowd when social distancing is encouraged,” he said.

When we returned later in the day to check the situation, we found an empty stadium, with few police officers loitering around. They were apparently providing security to the tents that were mounted by Malawi Defense Force soldiers.

Commenting on the escape, Phuka said his committee meets today to understand how everything happened.

“We realise the escapees are putting lives of others at risk. We are strengthening the tracing system and we are calling on everyone to own the problem before us, and encourage those that we know were among the group to come back for their results and take all the necessary precautions,” he said.

Executive Director of Malawi Health Equity Network, George Jobe, wondered why government is handling the matter of returnees “as a surprise”.

“We are worried that at a time the country was doing well in containing the virus, we are here importing cases. Otherwise we should have thought about shelter, security, sanitation and all, but we did not do that. But for the incoming groups, all these things should be considered,” Jobe said.

On Tuesday, nine individuals who had tested positive for Covid-19 escaped from Kameza Isolation Centre, thereby increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

Reports indicate that ten more buses are expected to arrive in the country before the weekend from South Africa, one of the hotspot countries for the coronavirus.

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