Malawi overwhelmed by second wave of COVID-19

Report from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

After being relatively spared by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Malawi is now being swept by a new, fast-spreading wave of the disease that is quickly overwhelming the healthcare system. In the first few weeks of January 2021, the number of people confirmed with the disease has doubled every four to five days, and while the local capacity is already saturated, access to vaccines is likely to be a few months away. MSF responded to a call by the health authorities in Blantyre, and launched emergency activities to tackle the exponential increase in the number of severe patients in the area. The pandemic has been developing at a rapid pace since mid-December. At that time, the majority of new cases was found among Malawian workers returning from South Africa, while today almost all the new cases are the result of local transmission.

There is a very high probability that the COVID-19 variant 500Y.V2, identified in South Africa, is responsible for this second wave. According to current scientific knowledge, this variant is 50 per cent more transmissible than the original strain, leading to a quick surge in the number of people needing hospitalisation. This number has doubled every week since the beginning of January.

If the epidemic in the country follows the same pattern as in South Africa (where the peak of the second wave was reached after nine weeks), we can expect the number of severe patients in need of hospital care to increase unabated up until mid-February. The hotspots of the outbreak are the two main cities in the country, Lilongwe in the centre and Blantyre in the south, which account for around two million people.

SaltMalawi editorial comment:

Potentially even more worrying is that we currently have no news at all of the rural situation, only the cities of Blantyre & Lilongwe. Just think how many men have returned to the villages from finding work in SA and carrying the new, more contagious variant.

Your urgent prayers are requested, please.