Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Manhunts launched after hundreds flee quarantine in Zimbabwe, Malawi

Published:Thursday | May 28, 2020 | 11:32 AM
A young boy walks past a wall with graffiti urging people to wear face masks in Harare, Thursday, May 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — Manhunts have begun after hundreds of people, some with the coronavirus, fled quarantine centers in Zimbabwe and Malawi while authorities worry they will spread COVID-19 in countries whose health systems can be rapidly overwhelmed.

In Malawi, more than 400 people recently repatriated from South Africa and elsewhere fled a center at a stadium in Blantyre, jumping over a fence or strolling out the gate while police and health workers watched.

Police and health workers told reporters they were unable to stop them as they lacked adequate protective gear.

At least 46 escapees had tested positive for the virus.

Some of those who fled told reporters they had bribed police.

And in Zimbabwe, police spokesman Paul Nyathi said officers were “hunting down” more than 100 people who escaped from centers where a 21-day quarantine is mandatory for those returning from abroad.

“They escape and sneak into the villages … We are warning people to stop sheltering them. These escapees are becoming a serious danger to communities,” Nyathi said.

Nearly all of Zimbabwe’s 75 new cases this week came from the centers that hold hundreds of people who have returned, sometimes involuntarily, from neighbouring South Africa and Botswana.

The quarantine centers have become “our source of danger,” Health Minister Obadiah Moyo told a special parliamentary committee this week.

Both Zimbabwe and Malawi have fewer than 200 confirmed cases but regional power South Africa, where many in both countries go to seek work, has more than 25,000.

South Africa has the most cases in Africa, where the continent-wide total is nearly 125,000.

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