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New Covid strain

NOT TAKING COVID-19 LIGHTLY— Taskforce members Phuka (left) Kandodo Chiponda (centre) and Kazako (right)

GIFT TRAPENCE

The Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 Tuesday announced the closure of all borders for 14 days and also expressed fear that the country could be hit by a new strain of the novel coronavirus.

The taskforce announced this during a press briefing in Lilongwe.

Presidential Taskforce Co-Chairperson Khumbize Kandondo Chiponda said the borders would only be opened for essential services, deported Malawians and those who went out for business.

She also announced that public gatherings would be allowed for a maximum number of 100 people.

The taskforce member said the restriction of 100 people would equally apply to football matches and crossover events scheduled for December 31.

She, however, said schools were exempted from the restrictions, describing learning facilities as crucial for child development.

“We need to protect our children; they are the ones who really suffered [during the first lock down]. [As] for adults, we need to sacrifice our interests,” Kandodo Chiponda said.

Cases of coronavirus are rising again, prompting taskforce members to suggest that the second wave could be on the country.

She observed that there was a rise in the total number of active cases, from 40 to 210 in less than two weeks. In the last 24 hours (as of yesterday), the country had registered 46 cases.

“This is a cause for alarm. It is becoming a big threat since the new virus spreads fast,” Chiponda said.

Presidential Taskforce Co-Chairperson John Phuka clarified that they had closed land borders only, adding that this was because most of the cases were being transmitted through land borders.

He said, in the past week, there had been notable cases of the emergence of the new coronavirus.

“This means that there is a genetic shift of the virus. Some things have changed [in the virus] genetically. There are a few things to investigate on the new virus,” he said.

Phuka observed that the new strain of the virus spreads faster than the old strain, saying this was the reason some countries had started closing their borders.

“We need to be extremely vigilant,” he said.

Phuka said some countries had come up with three versions of Covid-19 vaccines but none of them has been approved by the World Health Organisation.

“However, these vaccines control the severity of the disease, not the spread,” he said.

Information Minister Gospel Kazako appealed to faith leaders to abide by the restriction order.

“After all, it is just for two weeks. We should know that this disease can attack anyone, whether you are minister, reverend or journalist. We can only avoid the disease by wearing [face] masks and washing hands,” he said.

Kazako also disclosed that Ken Kandodo, one of the committee members, had tested positive for Covid-19 but that he was recovering well.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Defenders Coalition Chairperson Gift Trapence has condemned the government’s decision to close the borders, saying it was rushed.

“You cannot just wake up and tell travelers that we have closed borders abruptly starting from today. People need the right information to understand guidelines on how the borders will be operating. They could have given people time, even four days, so that they could prepare for this [eventuality]. I will not be surprised if some individuals were to challenge the decision in court,” he said.

So far, since its emergence in Malawi in April last year, Covid-19 has killed 187 people.

The first known cases of Covid-19 were in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

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