As the coronavirus new variant of Omicron is spreading fast in the country, the government has taken drastic actions—among other steps making vaccination mandatory and moving the Covid alert to level 2, which entails strict enforcement of Covid preventative measures.
Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, who is also Presidential Taskforce on Covid co-Chairperson, announced the new measures at a press briefing in Lilongwe yesterday.
She said, from January 2022, it would be mandatory for specific categories of people, which will include civil servants and healthcare workers, to receive Covid vaccines.
This is happening at a time the number of people with the Omicron variant of coronavirus has moved from three last week to 16 cases.
Despite indicating that the targeted categories of people would be announced in due course, she hinted that civil servants, notably healthcare workers and those in the social sector including journalists, were likely to be included.
“You [journalists] are at high risk; you meet different people every day; as such, you need to be protected. All journalists have to be vaccinated and that will be mandatory as well,” she said.
Minibus drivers, waiters, workers in the banking sector, immigration officers and road traffic officers have also been included.
“We are not doing this to punish Malawians; we are doing this to protect people from this Covid pandemic,” she said.
Kandodo Chiponda expressed worry that vaccine uptake had not been high enough to reach the country’s goal of vaccinating at least 60 percent of eligible Malawians.
Meanwhile, Chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Commission Scader Louis has said commissioners would meet to discuss the decision by the Ministry of Health.
The minister, who was in the company of co-chairperson of the taskforce on Covid Wilfred Chalamira Nkhoma, indicated that the country had moved from level 1 of Covid alert to level 2 and that the pandemic was spreading at an “alarming” rate.
At level 2, in-door gatherings will have a maximum of 100 people while outdoor events, including football and music shows, will have a maximum of 250 people effective Monday next week.
By Wednesday, there were 12 people admitted to treatment centres and the ministry said they were all unvaccinated.
By December 14 this year, 937,566 people had their first jab of Oxford-Astrazeneca, 354,267 had the second dose of the same vaccine while 283,841 got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Only 638,108 were fully vaccinated and the ministry has been citing misinformation about the vaccines as the main cause for people’s detachment from vaccine issues.
By Wednesday, a total of 2,310 people had died in Malawi due to Covid since it hit the country in April 2020 and there were 1,195 active cases.
Meanwhile, Secretary for Labour Dickson Chunga has warned employers against making Covid vaccination a precondition for awarding end of year bonuses to employees.
Chunga has, in a press statement, indicated that employers that ignore the warning risk being prosecuted.