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Malawi Reintroduces COVID-19 Restrictions as Cases Surge

Buses carrying Malawian migrant workers from South Africa arrive at Mwanza Border in southern Malawi. (Courtesy of Pasqually Zulu, Mwanza Border Immigration)

Malawi has closed its borders after confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped 75 percent in the past two weeks. Malawi authorities attribute the surge to relaxed preventive measures and increased cross-border traffic for the holidays. Health campaigners have welcomed the border closure, but say Malawi should also mandate face masks and sanitizers.

Malawi reopened its borders and eased restrictions on social gatherings in October following a drastic fall in numbers of confirmed COVID- 19 cases.

From a total of 1,065 active cases on October 3, the country’s total caseload dropped to just 30 as of December 11.

But since then, the cases have spiked. As of December 22, the confirmed cases surged to 210 with 187 deaths.

Khumbize Kandodo-Chiponda, is the co-chairperson of for the president’s taskforce on COVID-19.

Kadondo-Chiponda, who is also the minister of health, said the surge has forced government to reintroduce some of the restrictions.

She spoke at a televised press conference Tuesday in the capital Lilongwe.

“We are taking this border issue very, very, very serious because it is the port of entry which is bringing in a lot of people who are positive and a lot of them they also come without the COVID negative test," said Kadondo-Chiponda. "So we are urging those who are to come to Malawi for holiday, we are saying ‘Sorry, bear with us.’”

Kandodo said only Malawian citizens retuning home will be allowed entry.

“I know we have some who had gone for holiday, they have to come back. But also special groups like the deportees, we have also looked at how we are going to manage them," said Kadondo-Chiponda.

By deportees, she means Malawians returning from South Africa to escape poverty and joblessness triggered by the pandemic.

The Malawi government has also reintroduced a ban on public gatherings of more than 100 people.

Some faith groups, musicians and sports associations say the restriction on social gathering will inconvenience their activities planned for the festive season.

But Ministry of Health authorities say they will review the restrictions after two weeks.

Maziko Matemba, executive director for the Malawi Health and Rights Education Program, welcomed the move, but says the government should also mandate face masks and sanitizers.

“People were not following the measures because the messages were not coming forward like it could be expected," said Matemba. "People were using conventional communication but this requires sometimes door to door. It requires other enforcement mechanism so that people are able to adhere to these measures. The law enforcers need to be equipped.”

In the meantime, the government says Labor Minister Ken Kandodo has tested positive for the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

He is the first Cabinet minister in Malawi known to have contracted the virus. Health authorities say Kandodo is in good condition at a hospital where he was admitted three days ago.