MINISTER of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya says the country has almost tripled the number of COVID-19 cases from 295 reported last week to 620 new cases in the last seven days.

Speaking during the weekly COVID-19 update, Dr Chilufya said the country was experiencing a second wave of the pandemic.

“Country men and women, it is very clear that the second wave is here. We had reported only 295 last Wednesday in the update in the previous week but this week, we report on 620 new cases. This week, we reported increased number of cases that are severely ill in our hospitals. There is adequate evidence for us to conclude that we are in the second wave. The possibility of mutation of the virus we have been seeing here, different from the strains we see in South Africa, in the UK. This is the reason why our professionals are alert and working hard to do genomic sequencing to ensure that we determine the strain that we are having in the second wave,” Dr Chilufya said.

“We have learnt that the virus is mutating as experienced in many countries such as South Africa and the United Kingdom. Although not very clear what the effects of the mutation are on the behaviour of the COVID-19 causing virus, SARS-COV-2. It is evident that the virus transmits more easily and leads to more numbers of people and is appearing as a second wave through genomic sequencing. The exacerbated drivers for this pandemic remain clearly, one cannot deny from the many sections of our society that resulting from poor compliance to the public health measures, the five golden rules, including masking, washing hands, social distancing and avoiding public gatherings and reporting symptoms early.”

He said the salient factor that was exacerbating the second wave was the low temperatures associated with the rainy season.

“…[and] the super spreader events that are associated with partying, with celebrating, either due to the festive period or weddings, concerts, other social gatherings. These are super spreader events, patronising bars, huge numbers of people lowering their adherence to public health measures. There is increasing evidence that many people test positive to COVID-19 after participating in many such super spreader events,” Dr Chilufya said.

He announced that the country in the last 24 hours recorded 241 new cases out of 6,078 tests done, with 46 patients admitted in COVID-19 facilities countrywide.

“In the last 24 hours, we conducted 6,078 tests and out of these, 241 cases were detected as positive cases, therefore, that brings the cumulative number of cases to 19,122. The districts prominently standing out in this list of 241 cases include Livingstone with 77 cases, Kazungula with 46 cases, Lusaka with 42 cases, Ndola 31 cases, Mansa with eight. And we look at other districts such as Chingola, Livingstone, Kabwe, Kalomo, Kasempa, Monze, Senanga, Chipata, Liteta, Mazabuka, Mongu, Solwezi, Chibombo, Kapiri Mposhi recording four cases,” Dr Chilufya said.

“In our health facilities countrywide, we have 46 patients admitted in various COVID-19 facilities and out of these, 18 are on oxygen therapy and two are in very critical condition. Two pregnant women are admitted due to their COVID-19 status and we work hard to ensure that the pregnant women are safe.”

He added that the country recorded one brought in dead in Mansa, bringing the total number of deaths to 380.

He said 17 people had been discharged, bringing the cumulative discharges to 17,969.

Dr Chilufya, however, expressed concern over the increase in the number of districts recording COVID-19 cases.

“100 districts as we speak today are affected by COVID-19 and we see that some of the key areas that are affected, new epicentres will definitely affect many other aspects of our economy. Therefore, we must ensure that we disrupt transmission in the community today. It is worrisome to see new districts such as Mitete, Lupososhi, Luano amongst the cases that are reporting COVID-19 cases for the very first time,” Dr Chilufya said.

And Dr Chilufya announced that the Zambia Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (ZAMPHIA) was set to commence in January and urged the public to cooperate with the field workers as they do their work.

And Zambia National Public Health Institute’s (ZNHPI) Prof Victor Mukonka said the country had applied for access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are following the events globally and in our region and you know that in an advanced way to contain the COVID-19, we need to have access to vaccines and as a country, we have applied to have access to the vaccine. We have already formed a national task force in place and there is quite a lot of preparatory work going on in doing the prevalence survey to understand in terms of the magnitude of the problem in the country,” said Prof Mukonka.

Meanwhile, director of Infectious Diseases in the ministry, Prof Lloyd Mulenga, said COVID-19 patients that were stable when testing were quickly progressing to severe disease, with most going to respiratory failure.