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Malawi President Saddened Over Coronavirus Surge

FILE - A woman who trades in fabrics, and her child, wears face masks as preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in her shop inside Lilongwe City market in Lilongwe on May 18, 2020.

Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera says he is saddened by statistics showing a recent spike in coronavirus infections in the country. In a Sunday radio address, he announced he was starting a 21-day fast to seek divine intervention into the pandemic that is on the rise again. Health experts say the situation needs more than prayers.

Malawi has recently seen a surge in coronavirus cases. Since Thursday, the country has been confirming more cases than ever recorded.

For example, on Saturday, Malawi recorded 381 cases with 12 deaths, the largest figure in a single day since it recorded its first three cases on April 2.

Chakwera noted the surge is largely because many people, including him, had ignored preventive measures.

“Many of us relaxed our vigilance against the virus and now we are paying the price," he said. "We are paying the price because many of us are back to old ways of not wearing masks. Many of us are back to old ways of not maintaining our distance from others. Many of us are back to old ways of not washing our hands regularly. When I say many of us, I am including myself.”

President Chakwera has on several occasions been criticized for ignoring prevention measures during meetings.

In October, Chakwera faced public criticism for not wearing a face covering when he met with his Tanzanian counterpart, John Magufuli, during a scheduled three-day official visit to Tanzania.

This month, Chakwera was also criticized after he was seen without face coverings and shaking hands with American singer Madonna at his state residence in the capital, Lilongwe. Madonna has four adopted children from Malawi and co-founded a charity there.

But in his Sunday radio address, Chakwera said it’s now time for everyone in the country to return to following prevention measures.

“The speed at which the virus has been spreading since Christmas is very disturbing," he said. "Sixty-six new infections were confirmed between Christmas Day and Boxing Day. And in the fortnight that has passed since, over 1,500 new infections have been confirmed, which is an average of over 120 new infections every day which is putting too much pressure in our health system and health workers; this cannot be allowed to continue.”

Chakwera said he has directed the ministries of Homeland Security and Health to scale up the enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines with immediate effect. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

President Chakwera, also former head of the Malawi Assemblies of God Church, said he has personally joined his church in a program of a 21-day fast and prayers for God’s intervention into the pandemic.

Maziko Matemba, who heads Malawi’s Health and Rights Education Program, says the prayers would only help bring deep reflection on the impact of COVID-19, but that the solution is to put measures in place to stop surging cases, especially at the community level.

Ministry of Health statistics show that more than 60 percent of confirmed cases are through local transmission.

“[in the past] The focus was much to do with case management but what has happened now, we need to give resources to our front-line community health workers, which can also be supported by the community organizations or civil society structures or community volunteers who are willing to support so that they can manage issues of gatherings and other issues that can happen at community levels,” Matemba said.

Matemba adds that the government should also ensure that returnees escaping economic problems in South Africa are quarantined and tested before they are allowed to go to their respective communities.

The Ministry of Health says about 500 people who returned from South Africa Saturday are being kept at an isolation center in Blantyre for COVID-19 tests.

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