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Lazarus Chakwera gets tough on Covid-19

Orders temporary closure of schools

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President Lazarus Chakwera Sunday announced strict measures in the fight against Covid-19.

Among other things, he announced that schools would be closed for three weeks with immediate effect, new laws be gazetted to tighten the screws on coronavirus and that the government spend K17.5 billion on interventions in the short term.

This year alone, a total of 111 people, at an average of seven per day, have succumbed to Covid-19. This means that, of all the deaths from Covid-19 in the past nine months, over a third have happened in the past 16 days, showing a sharp rise in fatalities.

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It is against this background that Chakwera addressed an anxious nation last evening, when he, among other things, directed the Treasury to release K17.5 billion as soon as possible to the Covid-19 taskforce.

The funds would be distributed to nine clusters to meet demands of the current disaster, while an additional K100 million will go to Christian Hospitals Association of Malawi (Cham) to supplement the efforts of public hospitals in fighting the pandemic.

The government will also continue to support Cham by giving wages to healthcare workers and an additional 150 medical personnel toiling in Cham facilities.

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The Malawi leader has also ordered the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 to open 77 new testing centres, on top of 143 existing ones, in the next two weeks.

According to Chakwera, as one way of beefing up healthcare personnel, the government will recruit 1,380 personnel in four different categories at a cost of K1.6 billion over the next four months.

“When it comes to procuring medical equipment and supplies, the new injection of funding will prioritise the following: immediate procurement of personal protective equipment for all frontline health workers so that we do not lose any of these heroes to the pandemic; immediate procurement of 1,000 cylinders of oxygen, along with the adequate number of accessories like flow meters and patient monitors, which must be in-country by the end of the week, even by chartered plane if need be.

“Immediate procurement of 1,000 beds, including 50 to 100 specialised ICU beds; immediate procurement of non-invasive ventilators to assist those having difficulty breathing on their own; immediate procurement of 50,000 testing kits to meet the projected demand for the next four months. I must also mention that the maintenance of oxygen plants in Nkhata Bay and at Kamuzu Central Hospital are already underway,” Chakwera said.

Chakwera also directed the taskforce to increase the number of Covid-19 treatment units from 400 to 1,500 by, among other things, opening a 300-bed capacity field hospital at Blantyre Youth Centre, another 300-bed capacity field hospital at Bingu National Stadium, a 200- bed capacity emergency treatment unit in Mzuzu and a 100-bed capacity field hospital at the Zomba State House.

On schools, Chakwera has directed that all schools immediately close for three weeks, but that students in boarding schools remain in their respective campuses until health authorities assess the severity of infection in those schools to determine whether it is safe for students to go home.

He also said those sitting examinations will finish the task at hand.

The Malawi leader also directed that religious gatherings, and all gatherings in general, must have no more than 50 people under the strictest Covid-19 compliance measures certified and regulated by local councils.

“We must all accept that the scale of the pandemic demands a change of priorities. This is important to say because there are some who are still obsessed with politics, some who are still obsessed with Cabinet appointments and reshuffles, and some who are still obsessed with campaign promises that were made on assumptions and in conditions that no longer hold.

“When a ship is at sea and it comes across unexpected rapids and is hit by an expected storm, only a foolish captain would insist on maintaining the same course,” Chakwera said.

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