MINISTER of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya has expressed concern over the rising COVID-19 fatality rate, saying the country should brace for more drastic measures if adherence to guidelines does not improve.

And Dr Chilufya has warned political party leaders against peddling conspiracy theories against the COVID-19 vaccine saying there are processes that protect the public from being exposed to wrong vaccines.

Speaking during the COVID-19 update, Monday, Dr Chilufya said it was time to improve adherence to COVID-19 guidelines, revealing that currently, 75 patients were on oxygen.

“I carry a message from his Excellency the President of Zambia Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu that we must brace for more drastic measures if we do not up our adherence to public health measures that are being stipulated so far…so the message is simple, let us adhere to these guidelines, if we do not, the numbers will be going up on a daily basis, fatality will be going up on a daily basis and then we should brace for drastic measures to ensure that we put a stop to the transmission in the community. For now, what we are saying categorically is let us retreat to the basics. Let us ensure that we reduce person to person contact by ensuring that unnecessary movements are avoided. Let us revert to virtual meetings and ensure that we only have essential people to people contact when there is absolutely no possibility of a virtual or technology based meeting. Let us ensure that in all public places, we live within those guidelines, put up measures to ensure that people wash their hands. Do not admit anyone without a mask and ensure that those who have put on masks are not putting on masks for psychological purposes, chinning up, no, they cover the nose and the mouth,” Dr Chilufya said.

“Zambia has recorded in the last 24 hours 411 new cases of COVID-19 with 105 cases admitted to our various COVID-19 facilities out of which we have 75 on oxygen. If you look at the COVID-19 facility at the Levy Mwanawasa Hospital, we have at least nine patients in the intensive care unit with seven very critically ill. We have also in the last 24 hours recorded four deaths and if you do the analysis of the deaths, these include young, productive men and women who succumbed after very severe disease. We did state in the last update that Zambia had recorded a new strain of COVID-19, SARS-COV-2 virus and that we had already seen that one, it had caused severe disease, there was also ease of spread and that events associated with spread and these were called super spreader events where we see so much ease of transmission and when we see those people who were diseased there is intensity of disease. We also noticed that mortality has gone up. We have in the last few days recorded over 300 cases, yesterday we recorded 352 cases of COVID-19 and every other day we have a minimum of one to two deaths. This again reaffirms the establishment of the second wave of COVID-19 in the country.”

He insisted that there would be an explosion of cases if public health guidelines were not adhered to.

“Without adherence, we will see an explosion is cases, we warned of a second wave months ago and we did indicate that the spread, the establishment of that COVID-19 would actually be enhanced by poor adherence and we are repeating today that shall we not improve on implementation, on observing these public measures, we will continue seeing an explosion in cases, increased number of deaths, increased intensity and we will be forced then to go into very drastic measures,” he said.

He said the ministry had increased surveillance and more officers would be seen going to test and screen in communities to establish the extent of the problem so that health systems were not overwhelmed.

And the Minister said Zambia was firmly on track to start COVID-19 vaccinations in February.

Meanwhile, Dr Chilufya warned political leaders against using COVID-19 to gain political mileage.

“As we talk about vaccinations, let me use this opportunity to admonish political leaders that have stated in public that vaccines are either conduits of diseases people want to transmit to Africans, politicians who have used COVID-19 to gain political mileage. I have heard politicians, heads of political parties, Mr Hakainde Hichilema, Dr Nevers Mumba, comment on COVID-19 in the last 24 to 48 hours. I would like to state that COVID-19 is a deadly ferocious enemy of humanity and has claimed more than one million lives. The globe has united in solidarity and unity of purpose to protect humanity and today any political leaders trying to derive political mileage out of such a scourge is disastrous. This is time for solidarity, for unity of purpose and we cannot today, be looking for political capital out of COVID-19 when millions of people are at risk in the country and globally millions have died. When hundreds of people in the country have died. To state that COVID-19 should be the basis for which Zambia s should root out the government based on innuendos, based on perceptions that people grow in their heads is immoral. It is important today that all Zambia s across the political aisle unite and face COVID-19 as a public health enemy,” said Dr Chilufya.

“This is a public health war that we must win and it is no time for political pundits to start looking for mileage. COVID-19 vaccine, the united nations family, the global health community has set clear guidelines on the COVID-19 vaccines. There are many, there are internationally approved processes that we go through before you admit a vaccine to the list of vaccines you administer to your citizens. These are international standards and even locally we have our own pre-qualification criteria…so to start telling the public that this vaccine will be possibly a drug that will convey or that will be a conveyance for another disease is a useless conspiracy theory that should not come from any responsible political leader and today I urge both these political party presidents to work with government if the really love the Zambian people to fight COVID-19. And the health sector is not an area to fight politics.”