Health experts have warned government against laxity in enforcing Covid-19 precautionary rules, especially on the borders, saying Malawi is not prepared to handle the consequences.
This follows increased imported Covid-19 cases from countries hard hit by the third wave like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Just on Tuesday, the country registered 15 new Covid-19 cases, out of which seven were imported from India, a country whose health system is strained after being severely hit by the third wave.
This came after three Bangladeshi nationals, who arrived in the country on April 26, also tested positive.
Again, after government banned travels to those countries on April 26, the following day, seven Pakistani nationals destined for Shayona Cement Company in Kasungu were allowed entry through Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango said the seven were tested for Covid-19 the same day, and one of them tested positive.
He said: “So, they were put on quarantine [on Shayona’s cost]. After 14 days, the person who tested positive later tested negative, but of the six that first tested negative, two came out positive.”
Malango said as a result, Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda visited the facility in Kasungu on Monday and ordered that all seven must go into another 14-day quarantine.
“This time, they were told to quarantine elsewhere and not in Kasungu because it was found that these people were staying in the same house but in different rooms. They will foot all the bills at the new quarantine place,” he said.
Malango added that government has also ordered mass testing for all workers at Shayona Cement Company to ascertain the extent of the pandemic.
He said Chiponda will soon engage Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda to ensure that immigration officials support the fight against the pandemic.
He said: “The seven [Pakistanis] were returning from a holiday in their home country. The protocol is that the Immigration Department officials at ports of entry refer them to a health official, where they are given a list of hotels for institutional quarantine.
“This did not happen, and the seven were left to go to Kasungu. We want to understand why this did not happen. So the Minister of Health will engage Minister for Homeland Security to understand the matter.”
However, National Immigration deputy spokesperson Wellington Chiponde said such issues can best be answered by health officials at the airport.
“Our job is to facilitate travel, and there is a designated health official who has to ensure that all Covid-19 protocols are followed. So, on what happened for those returning from Pakistan to get to Kasungu, I think health officials are the best to respond to that,” he said.
In another disturbing development, police in Mzimba on Monday arrested 10 Bangladesh nationals for illegally entering into the country. Two Malawians were also arrested for aiding and abetting the illegal immigrants.
Meanwhile, Physicians Assistants Association of Malawi (Paum) president Solomon Chomba has warned that any simple compromise on the borders relating to Covid-19 screening guidelines could have serious consequences for Malawians and the country’s economic development.
He said: “We are at risk of this mutated Covid-19 third wave. As such, we need to get serious in dealing with the situation at hand.
“Let our borders strictly reinforce the directive by the Minister of Health. All responsible officers should diligently safeguard the health security of our country by tightening borders with enough Covid-19 screening materials, human resource, proper monitoring and follow up systems of those who happen to test negative.”
On his part, Malawi Health Equity Network executive director George Jobe also said Malawi needs to tighten her borders.
He said anyone entering the country’s borders should have certificates of negative results.
Said Jobe: “There is relaxation at the borders on the demand for certificates of negative results especially for those walking on foot or cycling.
“People from the countries with travel ban can land through neighbouring countries and walk into Malawi. The other initiative is to do with patrolling the uncharted border entry points.”
He said Immigration Department and police should patrol such places and that any officers found aiding foreigners into the country illegally should be quickly disciplined.
“Risks of cross border movements needs to also be instilled in Malawians who ply cross-border trade,” said Jobe.
The World Health Organisation has already designated the Indian Covid-19 variant (India B. 1.617) a “variant of global concern” as it spreads more easily than other strains and has spread to over 30 countries.