Southern and Eastern Africa COVID-19 Digest (Discontinued on 31 Aug 2020)

Situation Report
Malawi — Trends
Handwashing
Esther Levison teaches her grandson how to wash hands using a hand made tap, in Loyitele,Lilongwe. Photo: UNICEF

Lockdown suspended by the High Court until further notice

  • First case: 2 April 2020

  • Total cases: 4,752 (as of 13 August 2020)

  • Total deaths: 152

  • Schools: Closed (5,495,017 learners affected)

  • Borders/flights: All international flights and cross-border passenger and buses banned since 1 April.

  • Containment measures: State of Disaster declared on 20 March; domestic travel allowed only for seeking/providing essential services; 14-day self-quarantine for travellers or those who had contact with symptomatic people.

Situation:

Over 4,750 people have contracted COVID-19 and 152 have died in the country, as of 13 August, majority being from local transmissions. Since 23 March, there has been a ban on public gatherings and closure of schools and universities; and a ban of all international flights and cross- border passenger buses since 1 April. On 6 July, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology postponed indefinitely the opening of schools earlier scheduled for 13 July. Child rights activists and Government officials have said that school closures in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic have reportedly led to an alarming increase in child marriages and early pregnancies. The Government on 5 August gazzetted new COVID-19 rules to be effected from 7 August. Under the new rules, it is mandatory to wear masks in public places with a fine of MK10,000 ($14) for non-compliance. The Government had on 9 July announced a mandatory use of face masks in all its offices and warned that public and civil servants will not provide services to clients that do not wear face masks. Public gatherings are now restricted to a maximum of 10 people, including in places of worship, with a fine of up to MK100,000 ($135) for those who fail to do so. Funeral gatherings and other meetings convened to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, including the National Assembly are limited to 50 people. All markets, shops and businesses that are near hospitals have been ordered to close and all bars will only be allowed to sell alcohol as take-out. Members of the Opposition, led by Leader of the Opposition in Malawi Parliament, Kondwani Namkhumwa, have again condemned the newly announced COVID-19 regulations, stating that they are “unrealistic and harsh”, according to media reports. According to Namkhumwa, the imposition of the rules should have been accompanied with corresponding measures to cushion poor communities, including distribution of free masks, particularly to the ultra-poor. The court hearing on the injunction imposed by the High Court in April, stopping the Government from imposing a 21-day national lockdown is pending determination at the Constitutional Court., Human and civil rights activists opposed the 21-day lockdown stating that it lacked measures to cushion the majority of Malawians who rely on the informal sector and who are likely to be affected by the lack of access to their means of livelihood.

President Lazarus Chakwera has directed the establishment of a special committee to address concerns raised by human rights groups regarding overcrowding in prisons and the impact of this amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The activists represented by the Centre for Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance, allege that prisons across the country are currently accommodating nearly triple their capacity. Chichiri prison in Blantyre City that has a capacity of 800 prisoners is holding 2,000 inmates, while another prison in the city reportedly holding 14,000 instead of its capacity of 5,000 prisoners, according to media reports. The groups propose the release of prisoners who are terminally ill, prisoners with tuberculosis who considered high risk for infection and transmission, and elderly prisoners of 70 years and above. As of 6 August, 86 inmates and 21 members of staff had reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, of which 71 cases are in one prion in Blantyre, according to the Malawi prison authority’s spokesperson, Chimwemwe Shaba, quoted by media. There are fears that the figures could be more as not all inmates and staff have been tested. A shortage of testing kits has reportedly slowed down efforts to intensify both random and mass testing. The country is further facing challenges in the medical response. Doctors and nurses have repeatedly protested the allegedly unfavorable working conditions, including a critical shortage of personal protective equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients.

Response:

  • On 8 April, Malawi Government launched the National COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan, with a budget of US$213 million (MWK157 billion). The response plan includes $20 million (0.25 percent of GDP) in spending on health care and targeted social assistance programs. This includes hiring 2,000 additional health care workers.

  • The Minister of Population Planning and Social Welfare reportedly announced on 11 April that all Government social cash transfer beneficiaries will receive a four-month disbursement. The measure aimed to cushion them from the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic and to boost compliance with social distance orders. In addition, on 3 May, the President reportedly announced cash transfers to support informal workers who normally depend on the markets for their livelihood. The Government will reportedly target approximately 172,000 families, representing 35 per cent of the urban population.

  • On 15 April, the World Bank approved $7 million in immediate funding to support Malawi’s response under a new Malawi COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness project. In addition to the new operation, $30 million has been made available from the Disaster Risk Management Development Policy Financing with a Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option (Cat-DDO) to strengthen the country’s response to the pandemic.

  • UN and partners launched an Emergency Appeal for $140.1 million to target 7.5 people until October, and have scaled up their response. Since March, a risk communication and community engagement campaign has regularly reached more than 15 million people with support from UN and partners. At least 26,000 people who have entered Malawi during the COVID-19 period, including returnees, have been screened for the virus at the Points of Entry and been assisted with shelter, food, protective items and onward transportation to their final destinations. Six isolation and emergency treatment centres across Malawi have been set up by national authorities with support from the UN and partners. Following closure of schools in March, an emergency education radio programme for six million primary school students and digital learning for more than 15,000 secondary school students to continue learning have been supported. Also, more than 700 community protection workers and women rights promoters are dealing with cases of violence against children, women, adolescent girls and persons with albinism.

Official sources:

Malawi Government Official Twitter and Malawi Government Facebook Page

Ministry of Health COVID-19 Dashboard

Other links:

Malawi Government dispenses 4-month cash transfer to fight COVID-19, by Nyasa Times

COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response, by UNESCO

COVID-19 World Travel Restrictions, by the Emergency Division of the World Food Programme (WFP)

Global COVID-19 Airport Status, by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

Policy Response to COVID-19, by IMF

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