NEWLY-appointed Health Minister Dr Jonas Chanda has announced that Zambia has recorded 1,343 new COVID-19 cases out of 11,302 tests done, 14 deaths and 494 recoveries in the last 24 hours.

And Dr Chanda says the shortage of rapid test kits in health centres is being addressed, adding that it is unacceptable for people to wait 14 days to get their COVID-19 results.

Speaking during his maiden COVID-19 update in Lusaka, Wednesday, Dr Chanda announced that the total number of new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours had hit an all-time high of 1,343, with 14 deaths.

“Unfortunately, 14 patients died in various health facilities during the last 24 hours. The cumulative number of deaths stands at 509 (178 COVID-19 deaths, 328 associated deaths and three yet to be classified),” Dr Chanda said.

“In the last 24 hours, 1,343 cases were detected out of 11,302 tests done. I think that represents a positivity rate of almost 12 per cent and remember where we are coming from, we had a positivity of sometimes one to two per cent. The cases were detected in the following categories; healthcare facility screening, 744; routine screening, 487; contacts to known cases, 85; pre-travel screening, 12; healthcare worker screening, 11, and point of entry screening, four. The cumulative number of cases recorded nationally is 31,100.”

He said the new cases were detected in 52 districts, with Lusaka topping the list with 475 cases.

During the same update, Dr Chanda announced that there would be no lockdowns or curfews in the country because the economy would ground to a halt.

“There will be no lockdown or curfews, that is not what we are recommending and that is not what the President has recommended because if we do lockdowns, the economy grounds to a halt, no economic activities. How do you deal with hungry people? Where do you feed 18 million people when you lock them up? So, the President has already pronounced the ‘new normal.’ Under the new normal, we just have to adhere to the public health guidelines that have to be enforced and complied with so that is the key to fighting COVID-19 under the new normal,” Dr Chanda said.

“And we should also not lose sight of other disease burdens that we are already encroached with because apart from COVID-19, we have other diseases that are killing our people: HIV; TB; malaria; diarrheal diseases; the non-communicable diseases; high blood pressure; hypertension; diabetes; the cancers and, of course, the mortalities; high maternal mortality rate; infant mortality rate; child mortality rate. The Ministry of Health should not lose focus on all those other issues because we may win the fight against COVID-19 and lose anywhere else then that will be a self-defeating measure. So, we need a comprehensive approach where the whole disease burden, the full spectrum is taken up.”

And Dr Chanda said the shortage of rapid test kits in health centres was being addressed.

“The public has been complaining about the stock out of test kits for COVID-19, the antigen rapid test kits and I should tell people that every morning at 07.00am, we have virtual meetings for the whole country looking at the COVID-19 situation in the country. That is a topical issue that we are discussing and the Ministry of Health, through its various cooperating partners and including the Ministry of Finance, is working on modalities, how we make sure that these antigen test kits are available because what we have, now, is that when you don’t have test kits available, people go out to test, they are frustrated, they will move from one place to the other in the end, they will just sit back, that situation has to come to an end. The other situation is also the backlog of swabs, where you collect a sample in Luapula, but because you cannot process it, people don’t know their results. Why should people wait for 14 days to know a COVID-19 test result? So, all those issues are being addressed by our competent team,” Dr Chanda said.

Meanwhile, Dr Chanda, who is also Bwana Mkubwa PF member of parliament, has challenged the Ministry to research traditional methods being used to ‘treat or prevent COVID-19 infection’.

“I have challenged the Ministry of Health, can we also research a lot about our traditional methods, how come our people have so much faith in steaming? I think most of you here are already steaming, the luena and all these kinds of things. So, our health experts have to provide guidance, both on the conventional side and on the traditional side. And China is a very good example of a country that does both conventional and traditional because those products are already in Umoyo, in Links Pharmacy, people are getting them from everywhere. So, as health experts, we should not be left behind, we should be able to provide the guidance to the nation to ensure that we are all safe,” said Dr Chanda.