THE Ministry of Health has announced that the country has recorded 162 new cases of COVID-19 and one suspicious death in the last 24 hours, with 83 patients admitted at Levy Mwanawasa isolation centre.

And the Ministry says the country is ready for vaccine trials as it has the capacity to monitor the safety and efficacy of any vaccine.

Speaking during the daily update, Thursday, Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya said the Ministry had decided to open dedicated COVID-19 facilities in Solwezi and the Copperbelt following the increasing number of cases on the two areas.

“Today, we have 83 patients admitted to the levy Mwanawasa covid facility, 32 of whom require oxygen support, five are in critical condition and are admitted to the intensive care unit. Another 33 patients are admitted in various parts of the country and reflecting on what we said yesterday on the Copperbelt and North Western, we have in Solwezi, seven patients who are critically ill and four are on oxygen support. We have in Kitwe eight patients who are on oxygen support. We have further decided to strengthen our clinical management on the Copperbelt and in Solwezi by opening dedicated facilities to look at the cases that are ballooning. And therefore, we are emphasising again the need for us to close the tap to suppress the epidemic in the community so that we do not overrun our health systems. You and I have this responsibility to stop the spread in the community. Therefore, with no deaths recorded, we still remain at 73 deaths that are due to COVID-19 with 165 covid associated deaths. That brings then the total number of deaths to 246 and in addition to the [168] recoveries that we have added today we now have 7,401 recoveries,” he said.

“Zambia has recorded 162 new cases of COVID-19 out of 1,017 tests done and this brings the cumulative number of cases to 8,663. We did not record confirmed deaths to COVID-19, however, we had a suspected death of a 66-year-old male who presented with hypertension and was obese and succumbed before we finished working out this patient and results shall be released in due course, may his soul rest in peace. The 162 cases that we saw in the country in the last 24 hours reflect the wide geographical spread. We see a case in Mporokoso, three in Mpika, 10 in Chinsali and 60 in Lusaka. We see two in Chilanga and we see six in Kasama and two in Nsama and all these cases have been found out of routine screening and hospital surveillance. Health workers continue to be at risk and four health workers were found to be covid positive.”

Dr Chilufya further called on local researchers and academia to engage in research so that they can contribute to knowledge on COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is a new disease and there a number of things that we need to understand and every day we continue to invest in research, we continue to invest in various interventions in order to understand this. Today again, we call on the academia and research specialists to engage in research for COVID-19 to adduce evidence. Zambia is rich with researchers and today we call in the academic world and the world of researchers to engage in research for COVID-19 and contribute to the body of knowledge on COVID-19. Government will provide a conducive environment for such research. This is the best way we are going to have answers to the unanswered questions. Our academic institutions and research organisations are urged to respond to this challenge and government will invest adequately to support research in this area,” he said.

“Country men and women, the world is moving steadily towards establishing a COVID-19 vaccine, Zambia is not left behind we are engaged with the Africa CDC and a group of partners to participate in vaccine trials and we are going to work closely with our partners to ensure that Zambia is not left behind.”

Meanwhile, Dr Chilufya has clarified that no deaths had been recorded at Mukubeko Maximum correctional facility.

“We will update if we have any death in any jurisdiction, and at the moment, we do not have those three deaths at Mukobeko and should there be any information from there or any happenings in any part of the country, you will be informed. Let it be emphasised that the correct source, the authentic source of information on Covid, on the number of cases, deaths is the ministry of health through the Zambia National public health institute and that information is communicated on various platforms and we do release data,” said Dr Chilufya.

And speaking during the same briefing, director infectious diseases Professor Lloyd Mulenga said that the country had the numbers and institutions to be able to carry out vaccine trials.

“For vaccine trials, we are ready, we have institutions in the country which can enroll both in the public sector; like public hospitals, we have public research institutions and we have also private research Institutions, we have of course enough people. When you talk of the phase three you are talking of thousands, we are not shy of those numbers and also we have enough capacity to monitor the safety of these vaccines besides the efficacy,” Prof Mulenga said.

“Now for us, I think it’s important for the country to look at all these as opportunities, if there is a vaccine which meets the safety standards and also opportunities for the countries to participate, it’s good for us to know if our populations are going to be protected by this vaccine as well.”

He said achieving vaccination of 70 to 71 percent of the population is what would guarantee community protection from COVID-19.

“The importance of the vaccine is actually in two phases, at an individual level and also at a population level because at an individual level, if you are able to get this vaccine and protect you from acquiring the Covid, but also at the population level if we can achieve vaccination of about 70 to 71 percent then we are going to have that head in unity as a population whereby there will only be few people who will be able to get and those few people once they get, they also need to be able to cover them. So if we can reach that key point of vaccinating about 70 percent of the population then we will be able to have a community which is protected,” said Prof Mulenga.

Prof Mulenga said currently, no COVID-19 vaccine had been approved by the World Health Organisation.