HEALTH Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya says Zambia has recorded a staggering 850 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths in the last 24 hours.

And Dr Chilufya has revealed that young people are now succumbing to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Health Director of Infectious Diseases Professor Lloyd Mulenga said so far, various COVID mortalities were associated with high sugar levels, which had failed to be controlled.

Speaking during the COVID-19 update in Lusaka, Wednesday, Dr Chilufya announced that the pandemic had now reached alarming levels in the country, with skyrocketing new cases hitting an unprecedented 850 in the last 24 hours, with five deaths.

“The COVID-19 outbreak is now reaching alarming levels in Zambia! We have recorded a total of 850 new cases just in the last 24 hours and we have observed that trend remains the same. It is the super-spreader events and hot spots that we see associated with the outbreak. To this effect, we have taken some actions in certain public places to ensure that we curtail the spread of COVID-19 in Lusaka. Lusaka is the epicentre of the second wave of COVID-19 and most of the cases that we see today are actually being reported from Lusaka. The new cases that have been reported in the last 24 hours include one case that was a Brought-in-Dead (BID) from Mongu and we have recorded the various cases through points of entry, through our health facilities and through facility screening, and we have recorded this from various districts in the country. To-date, 103 districts have recorded cases of COVID-19 and each day we get not less than 30 districts reporting new cases of COVID-19,” Dr Chilufya said.

“The outbreak that we see today is known to affect any race. We had theories in the past of Africa being less affected. The variant today is affecting any race. The variant is affecting young people without co-morbidities. We continue to see young people die. In the last 24 hours, we have lost a young DJ, a young person from Mongu. The BIDs that we reported yesterday (Tuesday) showed you a window of what is potentially brewing in the community. We continue to bemoan the low levels of compliance to public health measures; taking a walk into town a lot of people who have masks just have masks on their chin. Do not psychologically convince yourself that you are putting on a mask because it is covering your mouth or your chin. You are only putting on a mask when it covers your nose and you cannot inhale the COVID virus. We must ensure that these rules beginning with masking-up are observed. Our total, now, has reached 23,495 cases out of which our recoveries are 19,672 and so far 417 deaths. We did test 10,461 in the last 24 hours.”

He disclosed that 72 patients were now on oxygen.

“At the moment, we have 130 patients that are admitted to our various COVID facilities, and 72 of these are on oxygen. And these numbers are fast-rising and if we don’t disrupt it, the transmission in our communities, we will overwhelm our systems! Remember, we have other public health diseases. If we don’t act and act timeously, we will overwhelm the capacity of our clinical set-up to handle everything. These rising numbers are a very dangerous warning. This is putting pressure on our health system and on the space. UTH, for example, is expanding the bed space for COVID from 40 to 120 in order for us to decongest Levy. Other provinces are equally establishing areas where they will manage this. We still have an opportunity to halt the pandemic by going back to the measures. We need to ensure that only essential travels are embarked on. There is no need to travel to an epicentre unnecessarily. There is need to do meetings virtually. There is a need to do business using technology. 850 new cases that we have picked are associated with weddings, funerals parties, associated with certain hotspots in Lusaka,” he said.

Dr Chilufya said visitations to hospitals would also be restricted.

“We have also directed hospitals to stop allowing anyone entering the hospital. Hospitals have now become highly infectious and it’s not uncommon to see people with just intentions to visit their beloved ones going back with COVID. So, we will not be allowing visitations in hospitals. Entertainment spots that we have repeatedly engaged have been given notices and will be shut down for disinfection,” said Dr Chilufya.

And Professor Mulenga said the diabetic picture was equally worsening.

“In the first phase, we used to see those who were stable when they present with COVID, they would remain stable until you discharge them. In this wave, we are seeing progression of patients, who were presented with mild symptoms within 24 to 48 hours, they progress to severe disease and we admit them to ICU. The number of people on oxygen, the percentages when you look at them, it’s different from what we used to see in the first wave. Some of the patients that we are losing, we are not losing them because of the lung involvement by the virus, but because of the blood sugars going up presenting the diabetic picture,” said Prof Mulenga.

“So far, we have recorded a number of those mortalities associated with just the sugar levels being so high and failing to be controlled, which is different from the other wave that we had where even though people were having diabetes, most of the complications were lung complications. But now, the diabetic picture is increasing!”

Meanwhile, Zambia National Health Public Institute (ZNHPI) director Professor Victor Mukonka called for urgent action to arrest the rapid rise in case numbers.

“Today, we have recorded the highest number since the outbreak started on 18th March, which is extremely worrying! Almost the whole country is covered with COVID. For January, you can see that we have surpassed the peak of what we had in the first wave, meaning that the number of cases we are seeing now has increased tremendously, which is calling for an urgent action,” said Prof Mukonka.