Malawi has introduced a mandatory quarantine on returnees from South Africa to control rising cases of COVID-19. Thousands of Malawians have returned from South Africa in recent weeks, and officials fear they could import the new, more contagious form of coronavirus.
Malawi has seen a rapid increase of COVID-19 cases since the middle of December.
The Public Health Institute of Malawi reports confirmed cases jumped from 116 on December 18 to 946 on January 5.
Health authorities say they believe the rise is largely driven by Malawians who traveled to South Africa to look for work and escape poverty triggered by the pandemic.
According to Malawi’s immigration department, about 10,000 Malawians have returned from South Africa since the start of the pandemic, with others expected to return soon.
“Forty percent of our cases have come from especially our returnees and indeed our deportees. So we have no option but to put this mandatory institutionalized quarantine,” said Malawi's minister of health Khumbize Kandodo-Chiponda.
The new policy, announced Tuesday, says returnees will be taken to a quarantine facility for coronavirus testing. Those found to have the virus will not be allowed to return home until they test negative.
John Phuka, the chairperson of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, says the measure will help contain the more deadly new strain of the coronavirus known as 501.V2 which has hit South Africa.
“For the past two weeks the number of cases had doubled almost twice," he said. "We were 210; we should have doubled to 400. We have now doubled again to over 800 active cases. So the rate at which this is rising is pointing towards that.”
Phuka notes that more young people are getting infected, compared to the first wave of the pandemic.
"In the current wave, amongst those we have lost to death, three are less than 30 years. As we speak we have two children who are admitted for example at Queens [Central Hospital]. And then last week we also discharged one child, six months old, so there are indications that we may have this variant,” he said.
This is not the first time Malawi has put returnees in quarantine.
In May last year, more than 400 Malawian migrant workers who returned from South Africa escaped from a coronavirus screening camp at Kamuzu Stadium in the economic capital, Blantyre.
This came two days after eight people who tested positive for coronavirus escaped from Kameza Isolation center in Blantyre.
This time Health Minister Kandodo-Chiponda says there will ‘very tight security’ in the quarantine facilities.