Two cabinet ministers die, president starts fast as Malawi experiences Covid-19 surge

Malawian president Lazarus Chakwera

Two senior Malawian cabinet ministers and two other senior political figures died today from Covid-19, the government said, reports The Jerusalem Post.

The deaths followed a cabinet meeting and other gatherings attended by politicians over the Christmas period, but officials did not say where the victims were infected.

Local Government Minister Lingson Berekanyama and Transport Minister Sidik Mia both succumbed to the disease in the early hours today, the government spokesman said.

The former governor of Malawi’s central bank, Francis Perekamoyo, and the principal secretary in the Ministry of Information, Ernest Kantchentche, also died of the disease, the government announced.

In a radio address on Sunday Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera announced he was joining his church on a 21-day fast to seek divine intervention into the pandemic that is on the rise again, reports VOA News. Health experts say the situation needs more than prayers.

He noted that the coronavirus surge was largely because many people, including him, had ignored preventive measures. 

“Many of us relaxed our vigilance against the virus and now we are paying the price,” he said. “We are paying the price because many of us are back to old ways of not wearing masks. Many of us are back to old ways of not maintaining our distance from others. Many of us are back to old ways of not washing our hands regularly. When I say many of us, I am including myself.” 

Chakwera, a former head of the Malawi Assemblies of God Church, has on several occasions been criticised for ignoring prevention measures during meetings, reports VOA.

In October, he faced public criticism for not wearing a face covering when he met with his Tanzanian counterpart, John Magufuli, during a scheduled three-day official visit to Tanzania.   

This month, Chakwera was also criticised after he was seen without face coverings and shaking hands with American singer Madonna at his state residence in the capital, Lilongwe. Madonna has four adopted children from Malawi and co-founded a charity there.   

But in his Sunday radio address, Chakwera said it’s now time for everyone in the country to return to following prevention measures. 

“The speed at which the virus has been spreading since Christmas is very disturbing,” he said.  “Sixty-six new infections were confirmed between Christmas Day and Boxing Day. And in the fortnight that has passed since, over 1,500 new infections have been confirmed, which is an average of over 120 new infections every day which is putting too much pressure in our health system and health workers; this cannot be allowed to continue.” 

Chakwera said he has directed the ministries of Homeland Security and Health to scale up the enforcement of Covid-19 guidelines with immediate effect. 

On Monday Malawi recorded 452 new Covid cases and 10 new deaths, the highest daily average since the first case was confirmed in April, the co-chair of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID, John Phuka, said in a statement.

He said Malawi now had a cumulative total of 9 027 cases, and 235 deaths. Some 1 852 of the cases were imported cases, mostly from returnees from South Africa, where a new highly contagious variant of the virus was found. 

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