Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda has revealed that three cases of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant have been registered in Lilongwe.
In an interview on Thursday, the minister said the positive cases were found among the samples collected between November 9 and December 2 this year from individuals who wanted to travel abroad.
She said: “The samples were taken for genomic sequencing on the possibility of the Omicron variant from where 12 samples were analysed. The three went to test for Covid-19 because they wanted to travel.
“They gave their samples for testing and between the indicated period of 9 November to 2 December, a sample of 12 out of the tests conducted had to undergo genomic sequencing to determine which variant could be in Malawi, minding that there were fears of the Omicron variant amidst us.”
Chiponda said from the 12 Covid-19 samples that turned out positive, three showed characteristics of the Omicron variant.
“Currently, the three cases are showing mild symptoms and are currently self isolating in their homes,” she said.
This fresh scare has forced Capital Hill to put in place, once again, strict measures for all travellers coming into the country.
Chiponda said with the detection of the Omicron variant in addition to a negative PCR based Covid-19 certificate that is not older than 72 hours at the time of arrival, all arriving travellers of all nationalities, including Malawians, will be expected to show a valid, electronically verifiable Covid-19 full vaccination certificate at point of entry.
She said: “Arriving travellers that are not able to show an electronically verifiable certificate at point of entry, shall be expected to access a Covid-19 vaccine that will be available for free at the point of entry before being processed to enter or re-enter the country, as a preventive measure.
“Travellers that are not able to produce a valid electronically verifiable Covid-19 certificate, and refusal to access Covid-19 vaccine offered at point of entry, will be required to undergo an institutional quarantine for symptoms monitoring for 10 days at their cost.”
Chaponda has also asked those who are yet to get vaccinated to do so as research has proved that those who are not vaccinated are prone to the virus.
She added: “Let me inform the nation that, as we approach the festive season which is characterised by lots of mass gatherings and travel, there is need to get vaccinated to ensure that the risk of Covid-19 transmission is minimised during this festive month.
“I would like to request every one of us to include Covid-19 preventive measures as we plan our celebrations of the season. Let me emphasise on the need to adjust our way of life in order to curb the spread of Covid-19 in our country.”
Health and Rights Education Programme director Maziko Matemba yesterday said the Ministry of Health needs to continue case surveillance if this variant is to be contained.
He said: “The registered cases have to be followed up and monitored. Just like the way we handled the first Delta variant cases in Salima, let us do the same on this new variant and I am sure if followed up and traced, we will manage it.”
Matemba also said there is need for the country to have programmes that will target adults who are eligible for vaccination to do so as soon as possible.
He said: “Malawians especially adults are afraid of vaccinations and we need to target this group with all the messages we can.
Looking at the variants we have had, if one is vaccinated, the chances of surviving are high, meaning we need to encourage one another to go for the jabs.”
Meanwhile, Malawi Health Equity Network executive director George Jobe has applauded government for coming up with the timely restrictions at entry points including borders but called for enforcement of the measures.
He said: “The enforcement of the strict preventive measures needs to be done jointly with community leaders to ensure that in their communities, they are able to follow what has been outlined by the ministry. It’s high time Malawians learnt to change the way we do things and protect one another.”
Malawi University of Science and Technology head of biological sciences Dr Gama Bandawe and associate professor in the Environmental Health Department at Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences, Save Kumwenda, also welcomed government’s approach so far.
Bandawe said the new measures are necessary to protect Malawians from being infected with new Covid-19 Omicron variant.
He said: “Malawi has taken a very logical and sensible approach where we ask Covid-19 negative certificates and vaccination certificates. I think these measures are necessary and they are very important to us to protect ourselves.”
On his part, Kumwenda said the decision will ensure that people entering the country have received Covid-19 vaccine.
The Omicron variant was first spotted in South Africa in November 2021 and was reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on November 24.
The WHO labelled it a “variant of concern” two days later, noting it had mutations associated with increased transmissibility.
Since then, the variant has been identified in 57 countries across the world, according to the WHO’s latest tally, and there are increasing cases of community transmission with no links to travel.
According to Ministry of Health Covid-19 daily updates, cumulatively, as of Wednesday Malawi has recorded a total of 62 053 cases including 2 307 deaths, giving a case fatality ratio of 3.72 percent.
Of these cases, 59 335 about 95.6 percent were locally transmitted and cumulatively, 58 826 cases have now recovered.
Currently, there are 688 active cases, five of which are hospitalised at the Lilongwe treatment unit and a total of 1 501 147 vaccine doses have been administered in the country so far.