By Taonga Sabola & Feston Makekezo:
Government has admitted that it is overwhelmed in handling over 2,000 Malawians who have returned from South Africa and Zimbabwe after fleeing from restrictions imposed in those countries to fight the novel coronavirus.
The initial plan, apparently, was that the government would handle 700 returnees. The numbers, however, rose as some people who were not in the initial arrangement are said to have joined the system after having used uncharted routes.
Meanwhile, the number of confirmed Covid-19 positive cases has risen to 203 following the confirmation of 102 new cases, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 has said.
Director of Quality Management Department in the Ministry of Health, Dr Andrew Likaka, said in an interview with The Daily Times in Mzuzu that the government had prepared to have around 700 returnees who were cleared by embassies in the two countries but the number has shot to over 2,000.
“I would give an example that two days ago we were expecting 250 people from South Africa and 93 people from Zimbabwe, but we were shocked at the border to see over 2,000 people arriving.
“So, some people are coming without our knowledge. Others are using uncharted routes. I must really emphasise that the numbers that we are getting are beyond what we expected. So that is creating challenges at the border in terms of social distance,” Dr Likaka said.
Briefing reporters in Lilongwe yesterday, Co-chairperson of the taskforce, Dr John Phuka, said of the 102 new cases, 92 are returning bus travellers; seven are truck drivers while three are Lilongwe residents.
Phuka said from May 17, the country has received 17 buses of returning residents, two from Zimbabwe and 15 from South Africa with over 600 people.
He said the task force is still waiting for results of tests conducted from some buses in the group.
“These results are not from all the buses. We are still waiting for results from other buses because they were not yet out,” Phuka said.
He then apologised for the security lapses that resulted in over 400 returning residents bolting at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre on Tuesday evening.
“As a committee, we are extremely sorry for what happened where over 400 returning residents escaped from where they were being kept at Kamuzu Stadium. We will put in place the necessary measures to ensure that such a scenario does not happen again,” Phuka said.
He added that the task force agreed to strength the handling of returning residents, saying they will have to be tested at the point of entry and that those confirmed positive will have to undergo institutional quarantine.
Phuka said government cannot arrest the escapees but will welcome them for medical attention as the priority is to combat the spread of Covid-19.
On the other hand, Deputy Director of Preventive Health Services in the Ministry of Health, Dr Mathews Kagoli, said there will be costs to pay if people deliberately fail to adhere to Covid-19 preventive measures.
Meanwhile, about 280 other Malawians were expected to arrive in the country yesterday and today through Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe.
On what happens to those who escaped from the stadium, Blantyre District Council Director of Health and Social Services Dr Gift Kawalazira said on Wednesday health authorities have details of all arrivals, hence know how to trace them even though they are a risk to the public.
During the briefing in Lilongwe, it was noted that the task force had resolved to stop Health Minister Jappie Mhango from giving Covid-19 updates to take away the political connotation in the announcement.
Instead, Phuka will be announcing the updates.
Four people who were diagnosed with Covid-19 have died in Malawi.