Lockdowns in South Africa and Kenya due to Corona virus (Covid-19) outbreak has forced Malawi Airlines to suspend its flights to the two countries together with Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
South Africa went into a complete shutdown Thursday night while Kenya announced on Wednesday that no international flight will be allowed to enter the country.
Both countries have registered cases of the fast spreading Covid-19 with South Africa confirming its first death Friday.
In a telephone interview, Malawian Airlines Public Relations Manager Joseph Josiah confirmed the development indicating that, in some countries, flights may resume Wednesday next week.
“We have suspended our Nairobi flights in Kenya until further notice. We have also suspended our flights to Johannesburg, South Africa until the 16th of April which will also depend on the situation that will be prevailing at that time,” Josiah said.
The local airline has also suspended its flights to Dar es Salam in Tanzania and Harare in Zimbabwe, which are expected to resume on the Wednesday next week.
Last week, International Air Transport Association predicted that African airlines that had suspended flights by then would lose $4.4 billion in revenue.
Josiah could not come out clearly on the possible loss of revenue that the company is expected to encounter following the decision.
He said: “it is too early to tell the impact in monetary value but, after management has sat down and reviewed, we will be able to tell.”
Meanwhile, as death toll from Covid-19 continues to rise globally, health experts have warned Malawi is not ready to handle a full-brown crisis.
Malawi has not registered any Covid-19 case but President Peter Mutharika declared a state of national disaster as a preventive measure consequently banning gatherings of more than 100 people and closure of schools.
However, health rights activist and former National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives chairperson Dorothy Ngoma has said nothing has changed in the country’s health facilities.
Ngoma says the facilities still lack essential equipment.
“The situation in our health facilities remains the same, our hospitals are still overcrowded despite the President banning gatherings of more than 100 people, some of our public facilities are still facing water shortages and the hygiene trainings that is being provided for health workers as part of the response is already familiar to nurses, doctors and other health workers, so to say the least, there is nothing to show that the country is really in a state of disaster because it is business as usual in our facilities,” Ngoma said.
According to Ngoma, Malawi is doing well in civic educating the masses but more needs to be done to provide the necessary resources to frontline workers for them to ably combat the spread of the pandemic.
She said, as it is, some other health services could be affected in the event that the pandemic spreads into the country as Malawi is still grappling with the challenge of high vacancy levels in the health sector.
“This pandemic has overwhelmed health service delivery systems of advanced economies such as the United States of America, China and Italy, so if you really look at what we are doing as a nation, you will realise that we are really far, despite the ban by the President which in itself is a good measure, you will notice that there is no crowd control measures in our markets and people are still overcrowding in minibuses in the country which is not the case in other countries,” Ngoma said.
Society of Medical Doctors president Dr Amos Nyaka said government has taken the right steps in ensuring that frontline workers and Malawians are protected in case of an outbreak.
But Nyaka concurred with Ngoma saying other health services could be affected in the event of an outbreak due to shortage of human resource in the country’s health sector.
Air Rwanda was the first to suspend its flights after the country registered its first case of the virus which was followed by Mauritius, Morocco, Kenya and South Africa’s local flights.
Covid-19, which started in the City of Wuhan in China, has so far claimed thousands and thousands lives of people globally.
Malawi has not registered any Covid-19 case as the cases escalate in African countries including neighbouring Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tanzania.
Eric Msikiti is a Senior Reporter/News Producer at Times Group. Though relatively young, Eric boasts years of experience in Malawi’s media industry.