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Malawi Announces New Lockdown Measures as COVID Cases Surge

FILE - A woman who trades in fabrics, and her child, wear face masks to rotect against the coronavirus, in her shop inside Lilongwe City market, in Lilongwe, Malawi, May 18, 2020.

Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera has introduced new lockdown measures to contain a jump in confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19. The restrictions include school closures, a night-time curfew, and no gatherings over 50 people.

The measure comes five days after Chakwera declared a state of national disaster in response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

The new measures, he said, are being enacted because the situation is getting worse in the second wave of the pandemic.

“This year alone, a total of 5,091 people have tested positive for Covid-19 across the country. This means that of all the people confirmed to have contracted the virus since April last year, 43% have been found with the virus this year alone, showing a sharp rise in infections and a lapse in prevention,” he said.

Chakwera said that so far this year, 111 Malawians have died from COVID-19, an average of seven people per day.

“This means that of all the deaths from COVID-19 in the past nine months, over a third have happened in the past 16 days, showing a sharp rise in fatalities,” he said.

To reverse this, Chakwera ordered that all schools to be closed for three weeks, except for students currently doing Certificate of Education examinations.

Chakwera also said all students in boarding schools must be screened for COVID-19 before they go home.

The Ministry of Education disclosed Monday that out of 605 students at one girls’ secondary school in Lilongwe, 311, or just over half, have tested positive for coronavirus.

As for the lockdown measures, the president ordered markets to be closed at 5 p.m. and drinking establishments to close by 8 p.m. He said no one should be on the streets between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., and banned gatherings of over 50 people.

Benedicto Kondowe, executive director for the Civil Society Education Coalition, argues that closing schools should be the last option.

“Schools were closed for not less than seven months in the first wave of COVID, and registered unprecedented number of teenage pregnancies in excess of 40,000. And that’s why we are saying ‘Could there be a mechanism of mitigating and containing the virus while the schools are still in sessions?” he asked.

Kondowe says the government should devise a plan that allows some students to continue with their education.

“We do not know for how long COVID will remain with us. If COVID takes three years, five years and you are seriously saying that ‘education should be suspended.’ What future will he have created for generations to come?” he asked.

However, George Jobe, executive director for Malawi Health Equity Network, commends the new measures.

He advises Malawians to strictly observe all restrictions for the sake of their own health, and not wait for police to enforce them.