MINISTER of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya has announced that the new strain of COVID-19 has been recorded in Zambia, warning that it spreads faster.

During the weekly update, Dr Chilufya noted that the second wave the pandemic was now firmly established in the country with a strain identified similar to that discovered in South Africa.

“Today, we report that Zambia has characterised a new strain of the SARS-COV-2 which is the same as the one which was isolated in South Africa. This mutated virus was isolated in many of the cases detected in a number of cases detected in December 2020, spreads faster, it causes more infections. Our ardent scientists from the Zambia National Public Health Institute, UNZA Vet, Okaido University, Oxford University and PATH are continuously working hard to further characterise the virus infecting our populations and understand the changing epidemiology. We would like to congratulate them for their good work. What the President feared two weeks ago would happen in relation to COVID-19 has now become a reality. We are seeing an increased number of cases, worrisome disease severity and an average of a death per day in the last two weeks and this signifies the beginning of the second wave. Today, we report that the second wave of SARS-COV-2 disease in Zambia is firmly established. This aligns to what our scientists and modelling teams determined a few months ago and like earlier indicated, the only way to stop this second wave in its infancy is strict adherence to prescribed public health measures,” Dr Chilufya said.

He said the number of cases had doubled, with 1,228 cases recorded in the last seven days while 618 cases were recorded in the previous week.

“Zambia in November 2020 recorded 1,200 cases of COVID-19 with eight deaths, but in December, these numbers have doubled. Already, we have recorded over 2,600 COVID-19 cases and 28 deaths. When we compare the numbers in the last seven days, again we see that these last seven days we recorded 1,228 cases while the previous week we recorded 618 cases. Again, this is further evidence that the number of cases have doubled and also further validates our position that a second wave of COVID-19 outbreak is taking root in the country,” he said.

“In the last 24 hours, Zambia has confirmed 285 new cases of COVID-19 out of 9,227 tests done in our laboratories and the cumulative number of cases has now surpassed 20,000, we now have a total of 20,462 cases. The new cases are being reported from 27 districts, and these include; Lusaka, Mongu, Kabwe, Chipata, Mazabuka, Luanshya, Namwala, Choma, Ndola, Chingola, Mpulungu, Kazungula, Mufulira, Solwezi, Livingstone, Petauke, Kitwe, Monze, Sinazongwe, Mpongwe, Kasama, Chilanga, Kalomo, Likili, Lundazi, Mbala and Mkushi. We see a generalised picture of the cases that we are reporting on mainly coming from those 27 districts.”

Dr Chilufya said 72 patients were currently admitted in isolation facilities with 40 on oxygen.

“In our various healthcare facilities, we have 72 patients in admission. Out of these 72 patients, 40 are on oxygen and this compares again to last week where we only had 36 patients with 18 on oxygen therefore double the cases. Seven of our patients are in a critical condition while the previous reporting period only recorded two. We have also seen that our pregnant women are being affected and so far, we have two pregnant women under our admission being managed for COVID-19. We have also noted another characteristic, the age range has changed, this time the age range of patients in our facilities is from 17 to 82 years with the majority being between 25 and 45…The 72 patients that we have in our admission are as follows, 36 are at Levy with 26 on oxygen and five are in critical condition in the ICU. The University Teaching Hospital isolation facility, we have 12 patients with four in oxygen, two of whom are in critical condition. If we look at the provincial centres, 24 patients are there with 10 on oxygen,” he said.

“Again in Central Province we have unfortunately lost one patient, a 73 year old male who presented with severe COVID-19 pneumonia. We are discharging 150 patients and these are coming from all the provinces. It brings our total recoveries to 18,530. So the cumulative number of fatalities stands at 386 with 131 attributed to COVID-19 and 255 associated COVID-19 deaths.”

He noted that adolescents were now the most affected and not the elderly as was the case in the first wave

“The population most affected is the young adolescents and the middle aged, again an epidemiological feature that is new and associated with this new outbreak. Should we be surprised that this is the affected group where we are seeing more cases? On the one hand yes, because that’s not what we used to see in the past but on the other hand we should see, we should take note that the super spreader events, concerts, night clubs, various activities have attracted this age group and when they are in these super spreader events, they are hardly masking up and they are hardly following public health measures, therefore we have a number of the young admitted to our facilities and if not admitted to our facilities, appearing on our database as being COVID-19 positive. We see that as they participate in various congregate settings, either they are not masking up or the masks are just covering the chin instead of covering the nose,” said Dr Chilufya.

And In-charge of the Levy Mwanawasa isolation centre Dr Aggrey Mweemba, who joined the briefing via Zoom said the facility had seen a sharp rise in the number of patients

“We are in ICU at the moment, unfortunately you cannot see our faces. So four weeks ago we had no patients in here, currently we have six patients in ICU but as I am talking we have just been resuscitating one patient, in total we have 36 patients, four weeks ago we didn’t have any patients…This is not a hoax, it’s a reality and we need to prevent people getting as sick as this because it’s overwhelming all of us,” said Dr Mweemba.