Hundreds Flee Coronavirus Quarantines in Zimbabwe, Malawi

A staff member at the Parirenyatwa Hospital screens and gives hand sanitiser and hand wash to visitors entering the hospital as the country tries to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Harare on March 23, 2020, as the country registered its first COVID-19 coronavirus death. - African countries …
JEKESAJIKIZANA/AFP via Getty Images

Police are scrambling to track down hundreds of people who fled coronavirus quarantine centers in recent days in Zimbabwe and Malawi, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Thursday.

In Blantyre, Malawi, over 400 people escaped from a quarantine center set up at a local stadium recently, many of them “jumping over a fence or strolling out the gate” reportedly while police officers and health workers watched on. When local reporters asked police and health workers why they had not stopped the patients from escaping, they said they “lacked adequate protective gear” to confront them.

While the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) to treat coronavirus patients in the region has been well documented, some of the people who left the center said they had bribed police to get out. According to the AP, at least 46 of the patients who fled had tested positive for Chinese coronavirus.

The report identified some of the quarantine escapees as having recently entered Malawi from South Africa, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases on the continent with almost 125,000 infections. A source of regional economic power, many people from Malawi and Zimbabwe travel to South Africa seeking work.

In Zimbabwe, law enforcement officers are “hunting down” over 100 people who escaped from quarantine centers, spokesman Paul Nyathi told the AP. The country requires a 21-day quarantine for people returning from abroad.

“They escape and sneak into the villages … We are warning people to stop sheltering them. These escapees are becoming a serious danger to communities,” Nyathi said.

Almost all of Zimbabwe’s 75 new coronavirus cases this week were traced to quarantine centers that detain, often involuntarily, hundreds of people returning from abroad. As in Malawi, many of the people returning to Zimbabwe had traveled to South Africa. Many also returned from neighboring Botswana, according to the report.

This week, Zimbabwe Health Minister Obadiah Moyo told a special parliamentary committee that the mandatory quarantine centers have become “our source of danger,” according to the AP. Both Zimbabwe and Malawi have fewer than 200 documented cases of Chinese coronavirus, although the true numbers are likely higher due to deficient testing in the region.

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