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COVID-19 Kills Two Malawian Cabinet Members; President Declares State of National Disaster

Malawi's newly elected President Lazarus Chakwera takes the oath of office in Lilongwe, Malawi, June 28, 2020.
Malawi's newly elected President Lazarus Chakwera takes the oath of office in Lilongwe, Malawi, June 28, 2020.

Two ministers in the cabinet of Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera died Tuesday from COVID-19. The southern African country is dealing with a steep rise in cases, and in a televised address the president urged Malawians to take protective measures.

Speaking on state media from his residence in the capital, Lilongwe, Chakwera ordered that national flags fly at half-staff, and called for three days of national mourning.

Lingison Belekanyama was minister of local government and Muhammad Sidik Mia was minister of transport.

Their deaths come as Malawi deals with an unprecedented rise in cases and deaths from COVID-19.

Chakwera said he was saddened that out of 235 COVID-19 deaths registered since the “second wave” began in November, 50 of them have come since January 1.

The rise in cases, he said, has compelled him to issue a number of directives.

“In accordance with section 32, subsection 1, of the Disaster Preparedness and Relief Act, I declare state of national disaster in all districts in respect of all the districts of the country with effect from today, January 12, 2021,” Chakwera said.

Chakwera appealed for more assistance to fight COVID-19 from the international community, relevant United Nations agencies, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector.

He warned more stringent measures against the pandemic are yet to come.

“This declaration of the national state of the disaster is but the first step towards the possible declaration of the state of emergency, subject to consultation with and approval from the defense and security committee of the national assembly as stipulated in section 45 of the constitution.” Chakwera said.

Local media reports said nearly half of Chakwera’s 32-member cabinet is infected with COVID-19. Government officials dispute this.

However, two cabinet ministers have declared themselves COVID-19 positive: Labor Minister Ken Kandodo and Minister of Industry Roy Kachale.

President Chakwera concluded his address by urging Malawians not to lose hope.

He encouraged them to police one another in observing COVID-19 preventive measures, which include washing hands with soap, observing social distance recommendations and putting on face coverings.