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A country with no coronavirus cases declared a national disaster and shut schools, large gatherings

As coronavirus infections in most countries worldwide continues to soar by the thousands daily, there has not been any confirmed Covid-19 case in Malawi so far. Despite this the country’s president Peter Mutharika declared coronavirus a national disaster as a measure to prevent cases of the virus in the country.

At the moment, all schools, colleges, both private and public universities have been closed since Monday (Mar. 23).

The country’s government is restricting public gatherings to less than 100 people. This restriction applies to all gatherings including weddings, funerals, church, congregations, rallies and government meetings. The national security has been ordered into action to enforce these restrictions.

There aren’t any registered coronavirus cases in Malawi yet according to the health ministry which is believed to be checking temperatures of everyone coming through its land borders and airports.

“Twelve people who showed signs and symptoms of the disease have been tested and the results showed negative through the government’s public health reference laboratory,” said Joshua Malango, spokesperson for the health ministry.

Despite there being no confirmed coronavirus cases, there are suspicions locally there’s a likelihood of cases in the country given the testing process has been making it near impossible to efficiently test people. Malango insisted the Malawi government is doing everything it can to effectively carry out tests.

But with most African countries affected by the virus, including neighbor country South Africa which now has the highest number infection cases in Africa and growing rapidly, there are fears the virus will easily find its way into the country. This is a very real possibility because of the high number of Malawians who live and work in their wealthier neighbor.

There are an estimated 100,000 Malawian migrant workers in South Africa, driven there by few employment opportunities and low wages at home.

Last week, Malawi Health Equity Network director George Jobe warned that the country should intensively prepare for the worst. “Now the virus is closer to home than we ever imagined. Many Malawians travel to South Africa daily and people of the two countries are constantly trading with each other, this means that Malawi should intensify screening in all airports and boarders across the country,” said Jobe.

South Africa alone has registered 554 cases so far. Another Malawi’s neighbor Tanzania is a concern as well, as the country has so far registered 12 cases as of Sunday. Tanzania shares a border and quite often, Malawians go to the east African country to collect shipped goods at Dar es Salaam port since Malawi is landlocked.

As Malawi is ranked among the world’s least developed countries with its GDP coming in at around $7 billion, a virus outbreak would only worsen its economic output.

Malawi has plenty of experience dealing with public health crisis given the high HIV incidence in the country over the last few decades. It still has one of the highest HIV prevalences in the world despite the impressive progress the country has made in recent years. There are concerns in medical community that HIV carriers could be particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. South Africa, which has the world’s largest HIV positive population, is taking key steps to protect this group.

This article was originally published by Quartz.


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