It pleased His Excellency Prof Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi to appoint a Special Cabinet Committee on Corona virus effective 7th March, 2020. This is a Committee of Cabinet Ministers established to provide overall policy guidance as it relates to assessing the impact as well as overseeing across-Government response to the threat posed by COVID-19 in the country.
In executing this mandate, the Committee shall, from time to time:
Receive updates on COVID-19 and ensure that the same is relayed to Malawians,
Recommend proactive measures to prevent the occurrence and subsequent spread of corona virus in Malawi. At the moment Malawi does not have any registered case of COVID-19.
To provide oversight for cross-Government initiatives against the COVID-19 threat.
To facilitate implementation of activities aimed at mitigating the impact of the disease on the social-economic development of the country.
The Committee comprises of the following:
Hon Jappie Mtuwa Mhango, M.P., Minister of Health and Population (Chairperson)
Hon Everton Hebert Chimulirenji, Minister of Disaster Management Affairs and Public Events
Hon Joseph Mwanamvekha, M.P., Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development
Hon Mark Botomani, M.P., Minister of Information, Civic Education, and Communications Technology
Hon.Ibrahim Salim Bagus, M.P., Minister of Industry and Trade
Hon. Kondwani Nankhumwa, M.P., Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development
Hon. Dr. William Susuwele Banda, M.P., Minister of Education, Science and Technology
Hon. Francis Kasaila, M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
Hon Nicholas Dausi, M.P., Minister of Homeland Security
Hon Mary Thom Navicha, M.P., Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare
Hon Chipiliro Mpinganjira, M.P., Deputy Minister of Defence
The Chief Secretary to the Government and Principal Secretaries drawn from these Ministries are automatic members by virtue of providing necessary technical support to the Committee.
Meeting of Cabinet Committee
Following its appointment, the Committee held its first meeting on 9th March, 2020 at Sunbird Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre to receive updates on COVID 19.
The Committee noted that Government has already put in place structures to lead preparations in case of Corona virus in the country. These include the Health Cluster Committee and Committee of Technical Experts.
As a matter of an update on the Corona virus situation, as reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Corona virus outbreak which begun in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China has now spread to almost all provinces in China and has also spread to 101 countries in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and America.
As of 08th March, 2020, a total of 105,586 laboratory confirmed cases had been reported globally. Of these cases, 80,859 (77%) had been reported from China. A total of 3,584 deaths had been reported globally. Of these deaths, 3,100 (86%) had been reported from China and 484 deaths reported from other countries. While the number of new cases being reported in a day has been decreasing in China, the situation is getting worse in other countries like Italy, Germany, France, Iran and South Korea. The outbreak is still very much a matter of global public health concern.
Africa has not been spared by the outbreak. 7 countries in Africa have reported cases- Algeria (17 cases), Egypt (48 cases), Senegal (4 cases), Cameroon (2 cases), Nigeria (1 case), Togo (1 case) and South Africa (3 cases). While all countries that are reporting cases are of interest to us, South Africa is of greater interest considering the amount of traffic between the two countries. We are monitoring the situation in South Africa to see how the outbreak evolves. So far the outbreak is under control since the cases have only been reported among those people who came from Europe. There is no local transmission of the corona virus in South Africa.
At this point, allow me to explain what Corona virus is. Corona viruses are a large family of viruses which have been there with us for a long time. They are common among animals worldwide but a few of them are known to affect human beings. Those that infect people usually only cause mild respiratory diseases such as the common cold which often resolves on its own. But as I said in the beginning, this is a new (novel) corona virus now being called COVID-19. As such, we, in the health community, do not know much on how it affects people. However, some important characteristics of this virus are known. So far, we know that the virus can be transmitted between human beings and its incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is 2 to 10 days.
Common symptoms of the Corona virus infection include:
Difficulty in breathing
At present, there is no specific treatment nor vaccine for Corona virus is available. What hospitals can do is to support patients by relieving the symptoms while their bodies fight the infection. Most patients (about 98%) get well in the end if they are properly supported.
In the absence of effective treatment, raising awareness of the risk factors for the Corona virus infection and the protective measures individuals can take is the only way to reduce human infection and death.
Therefore, people need to do the following:
Avoid close contact with people who are sick
Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Practise cough hygiene by covering mouth and nose with tissue or sleeve or flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing.
Seek medical care whenever feeling unwell
If in countries with Corona virus outbreak, refrain from direct contact with animals and avoid animal markets. Also exercise caution when eating animal products (eat well cooked meat)
Government, in the light of technical guidance from the World Health Organization, is implementing activities in preparedness of the Corona virus outbreak. The aim of these activities is to prevent Corona virus from being transmitted to Malawi and also to prepare the country to handle any case should a Corona virus case be diagnosed. Government with support from development partners has carried out or is doing the following:
Government, through the Ministry of Health and Population convenes Health Cluster meetings on a weekly basis to discuss on how to prepare and respond to the Corona virus outbreak. These meetings involve different Government Ministries and partners including NGOs.
Government has developed a costed Preparedness Plan. The total budget in this plan is about MK2.4 billion.
Through different media channels (press release, TV/radio interviews, jingles, leaflets and more), the Ministry is disseminating information to the general public about the outbreak and how to prevent or control it.
In collaboration with the Chinese Embassy in Malawi, the Malawi Government is advising Malawians to as much as possible avoid travelling to China until the outbreak is controlled.
The Chinese Embassy in Malawi is advising its nationals in China not to travel to Malawi until the outbreak is controlled.
We are screening for Corona virus in all travellers arriving in Malawi through our International Airports.
We are following up for 14 days all travellers from China, Italy, France, Germany, Iran and South Korea. So far, as of yesterday, 9 March, 2020, we had in total followed up 233 people. 111 people are still under self isolation or quarantine. No person has been found with the disease.
Government, through the Ministry of Health and Population has also put in place a mechanism for laboratory confirmation of the Corona virus in patients who may be suspected of the infection. Currently samples requiring test for COVID_19 are being sent to a WHO approved laboratory in South Africa.
In collaboration with its partners, the Ministry of Health and population is ensuring that our hospitals have the capacity to manage patients suspected of Corona virus through training of health workers and provision of drugs and supplies.
Government is collaborating with WHO is continuously monitoring the outbreak situation in all affected countries in order to guide our response.
As I said earlier, His Excellency, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika set up a Cabinet Committee as a higher body to oversee the country’s preparedness and response to the Corona virus Disease outbreak. Cabinet notes the excellent work on corona virus prevention and control that is already being done by the technical teams which include NGOs, UN Agencies and other bilateral partners. Therefore I would like to take this opportunity to thank the teams for the good work being done and financial support our partners continue to support us with in our preparedness and response to the Corona virus outbreak.
I would like to assure the nation that the Malawi Government and partners are doing everything possible to ensure that Coronavirus is not imported into our country.
Currently the World Health Organization does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions to be applied to any country becuase of the outbreak. However, our advise to Malawians is to avoid none essential travel to countries severely affected by the outbreak. Government will continue working with the World Health Organization to monitor the outbreak and will regularly update the general public accordingly.
After yesterday’s meeting, as a way forward, the Cabinet Committee resolved as follows: –
In addition to the ongoing airport screening, Government should reinforce screening at all border posts with neighbouring countries such as Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania which is necessary now that South Africa has recorded three Covid-19 cases. The Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Immigration officials and other security agencies shall work around the clock to ensure that screening is reinforced at all border posts.
Enhance inter-sectoral coordination meetings to further bolster the country’s response to the threat posed by Covid-19. The Immigration Department shall always participate in these meetings.
The Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, the World Health Organization and Ministry of Health and Population officials will, in the course of this week convene to review and finalize the Contingency Plan that Government has developed in response to the threat posed by Covid-19.
The Ministry of Health and Population and the Ministry of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology will step up awareness to ensure that the general public is well informed about Covid-19. The awareness strategy shall involve and target both national and community media outlets and structures to ensure wide public outreach and address any misinformation paying particular attention to habits that we must stop as Malawians to prevent spread of the disease.
As a policy strategy, Government will continue to encourage self-Isolation of individuals suspected of Covid-19 in order to minimize risk of spreading the virus in case of infection. Meanwhile, let me urge all individuals placed in self-Isolation to fully comply with the instructions that are given by health personnel during the incubation period of 14 days.
The private sector, especially the media will be engaged to participate in the dissemination of information about covid-19 given its impact to the nation and overall economy.
With support from the World Health Organization, Government will, before the end of March, 2020 develop laboratory capacity to ensure that COVID-19 is tested in Malawi. At the moment Malawi has the means but lacks capacity to test COVID-19.
Government will provide support in the form of additional stipend to all Malawian students affected by the lock down in Wuhan city, China which is the hotspot of the corona virus. Government will not be evacuating the affected students because the situation has improved for the better and the incident rate is gradually going down.
Government will put in place measures for the provision of psycho-social support to those in self- isolation as well as institutional quarantine centres to circumvent the incidence of stigma arising from misinformation on the virus.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you all for your attention.