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Coronavirus - Malawi: Returning back home during a global pandemic

Life as a returnee

Three weeks after she returned, Gloria is temporarily living with her brother in Chilomoni in the city of Blantyre.      

When she left Domasi College on the afternoon of June 20, she initially went to stay with her mother in Nsangeni Village in Traditional Authority Malemia within the same area of Domasi. Neighbours and relatives came in large numbers to welcome her. She was now the one advising them to observe physical distance by not hugging and shaking hands.

Gloria's brother Joseph said at first when they heard that their sister was coming back from South Africa, the family was apprehensive as they were not sure how to embrace her in the face of the corona virus.

"There was jubilation when she told us that she had been tested negative and that government has now released her," said Joseph.

Malizeni’s experience

In the Capital City of Lilongwe, 26-year-old Malizani Kacheche is another one of many Malawians who has been forced to return back home to Malawi from South Africa due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Upon reaching Malawi, he says they were taken to the Nalikule College of Education where they underwent screening.

They arrived on a Friday and the very next day, they were given the results. He remembers that those were the longest 24 hours of his life as he waited to know the outcome since he had been in contact with many people on the bus ride home.

Luckily the next day, his test showed that he did not have the infection. They allowed him to go home to his family while his fellow passengers who had COVID-19 were asked to stay behind.

His family was happy to see him going by a warm welcome he got which was difficult under the circumstances as they could not shake hands or hug as is the norm when a person has been away for a long period of time. 

He ensured that he observed self-quarantine for 14 days at home just to be on the safe side in case he was asymptomatic and could infect his family members.

He notes that every time he is taking a walk and wearing a mask most people in the community think that he has COVID-19. This sentiment was especially strong when he first got home. People were scared he had brought COVID-19 from South Africa to the community.

What compounds this is also the fact that his friends are shunning him as they view him as being infected with COVID-19. Thus to try and overcome this challenge, he has resorted to mainly interacting with his friends through the phone as compared to physical contact.

Malizeni also dispels myths that young people cannot contract corona virus and has a strong message for Malawian youth:

“COVID-19 can also affect youth. I have seen young people get infected. We need to all ensure that we cover our faces with masks and try as much as possible to minimize unnecessary movements.’’

Supporting returnees

When returnees arrive in Malawi, they are assisted by the Ministry of Health, immigration department as well as UNICEF and its partner, the Malawi Red Cross Society, which provide them with relief items that included basic needs such as blankets, soaps, and mosquito nets.

The Society's Communications and Humanitarian Diplomacy Specialist, Felix Washoni said they are also involved in providing what they call 'restoring family links' which is a service where they offer talk time through provisions of phones.

"These people use the phones to connect with their families and report about their arrival besides informing them of their condition," said Washoni.

This is helpful as some of the returnees left Malawi some time ago and have not been in contact with their parents and relatives.

Ever since the returnees started coming back to Malawi, UNICEF through UK Aid funding and together with partners has supported the screening of more than 44,000 travellers and people at the border points of entry, returnee holding centres, and those visiting District hospitals and institutions. In addition to this, UNICEF and partners are also providing critical water, sanitation and hygiene services and supplies in the returnee holding centres and information on preventative measures to fight COVID-19.