[By Ernest Chanda and Chambwa Moonga]
HEALTH minister Chitalu Chilufya has tested positive to the coronavirus, as the country records 137 new cases in five days.
But PF central committee sources say everything is falling in place as planned as Dr Chilufya schemes his way to avoid the imminent arrest by the ACC.
Giving an update on the coronavirus pandemic yesterday, Secretary to Cabinet Simon Miti said Dr Chilufya had since gone into self-quarantine.
Dr Chilufya is the second senior government official to test positive to COVID-19 after information minister Dora Siliya.
“…I wish to inform you this afternoon that the minister of health Dr Chitalu Chilufya, MP, took a COVID-19 test and the results have come back positive. However, he’s currently feeling fine. But in line with the current health guidelines, he has commenced self-isolation and will remain under isolation until he is discharged by health authorities based on the set criteria,” Dr Miti said.
“The Ministry of Health officials have begun reaching out to his close contacts so that they are screened and tested. Dr Chilufya will continue supporting the COVID-19 response under the new normal of living with the coronavirus using ICT platforms. And so, he will continue to provide support virtually.”
Dr Miti said President Edgar Lungu had since wished Dr Chilufya well.
And Dr Miti revealed that health officials conducted 4,264 tests between last Friday and Tuesday this week.
He said the cold season had resulted in the increase in the number of respiratory cases.
“In as far as the situation is concerned for today, we report 137 new cases of COVID-19 out of 4,264 tests which were conducted in the last five days. The cases have been detected through community and point of entry screening, contact tracing and health facility surveillance,” Dr Miti said. “And the breakdown is as follows: 56 were from routine screening where we had Lusaka 19, Nakonde (27), Chilanga (five), Ndola (three), Chinsali (one) and Kitwe (one). Then also we had 33 truck drivers, and 24 of those are from Nakonde; Ndola (four), Chipata (two), Chirundu (one). We also had 26 health care workers, all from Lusaka. We had 16 contacts to known cases. And those are from Nakonde (seven), Lusaka (six), Kabwe (one), Mansa (two). And four hospital surveillance cases from Lusaka UTH. We also had two from points of entry at Nakonde; and that total gives us 137.’’
Dr Miti said 443 coronavirus patients had been discharged within the same period from isolation facilities across the country.
He said the cumulative total of COVID-19 cases since the outbreak in the country now stands at 1,057.
On testing all those who attended Cabinet meeting last Wednesday, Dr Miti said it was a matter that had come into the public domain.
He said it was an on-going exercise and all primary contacts of Dr Chilufya and Siliya had been tested and they were all negative.
He said secondary contacts – Cabinet ministers and Cabinet secretariat – would be contacted.
Dr Miti said as results come out, those who would be positive but without symptoms, the new normal would thrive (supervised self-quarantine).
“But for those with underlying diseases, they will be quarantined in hospitals,” Dr Miti said.
He said in the recent past, the nation did not have much information on COVID-19 as it has now.
He said with what the WHO had issued, the government now understood the pandemic better and knew how to handle it.
He noted the WHO had stated that COVID-19 would be a way of life, “probably it will be with us forever, therefore, the issue of adapting and adopting the new normal is paramount – adhering to public health measures, masking”.
However, PF and ACC sources charged that the Dr Chilufya had become so sophisticated that he can dribble the entire system.
On Monday, senior officials of the governing party, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Mast that it would not be surprising to hear that Dr Chilufya got swabbed and tested positive to COVID-19 to thwart his imminent arrest by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
On Saturday, information minister and chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya announced that she had been tested positive to COVID-19.
PF insiders, however, argued that Siliya’s story about testing positive to COVID-19 was a hoax.
Yesterday morning, way before the positive status of the beset Dr Chilufya became public knowledge, PF central committee members told this reporter that: “like we told you [on Monday], the guy has tested positive.”
“It’s all a scheme to avoid the arrest,” the sources insisted. “It’s still not public but we understand he (Dr Chilufya) called the deputy SG (Mumbi Phiri) moments ago to tell her that he has tested positive and that she (Mumbi) is one of the people he came into contact with. Everything is falling in place as planned; to avoid the imminent arrest.”
They reiterated that Dr Chilufya’s COVID-19 positive status, like Siliya’s, was phony.
“Yes! And that is exactly what you need to do; call the test a bluff. Expose him (Dr Chilufya) as you had reported yesterday (on Tuesday) and today (yesterday). All this was planned, starting with Dora,” said the sources.
And ACC sources said on Tuesday, Dr Chilufya did not appear at the Commission where he’s due for arrest claiming he had gone into self-quarantine awaiting test results.
“Yesterday [Tuesday], he didn’t appear before the ACC saying he was awaiting results, so he couldn’t leave home because he’s on self-quarantine,” ACC sources. “This morning [yesterday] we have heard that he’s COVID positive. So your Tuesday story was spot-on. But for how long will he remain COVID-19 positive? For all we have seen, from his own briefings, after two weeks or so he must be fine and ACC will pounce. As reported in your story of Tuesday, his informants within the ACC told him that he’ll not be returning home, that he should bring along his jersey because he was destined for an arrest. So he pulled a quick one and the ACC reacted in frustration. Officers handling his issue were very upset and ended up issuing that statement. You can now see that the man has become so sophisticated that he can dribble the entire system. The good news is that you guys predicted it.”
On Monday, a well-placed PF member of the central committee said in an attempt to avoid questioning and possible arrest at the Anti-Corruption Commission on Tuesday, Dr Chilufya was pushing for mass targeted screening of all ministers who attended a Cabinet meeting last Wednesday.
He said Dr Chilufya, alongside information minister Dora Siliya, wanted to see the nucleus of the government effectively quarantined.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it would not be surprising to hear that Dr Chilufya got swabbed and tested positive to COVID-19 to thwart his imminent arrest.
Siliya on Saturday announced that she had been tested positive for COVID-19.
The source, however, argued that Siliya’s story about testing positive to COVID-19 is a hoax.
The source had asked the media to “keep your eyes open, keep an ear to the ground, because Dr Chilufya is going back to the Anti-Corruption Commission on Tuesday and he’s likely to be arrested”.
“He’s going back to the ACC on Tuesday but his contacts within have briefed him already that the team there is determined to arrest him. So they have told him ‘to bring along your jersey because you may not return home’ – unless he gets a bond,” the source said. “The ACC are saying if the President wants to save Dr Chilufya from arrest, he’ll have to call the Commission directly as their Commander-In-Chief. They’ll only lay off if the boss gives instructions in person. They have chosen to ignore what the President’s men, those proxies, are ordering. The ACC guys say they have received too much flak from citizens and other institutions over their perceived failure to deal with corruption allegations especially involving politicians in power.”
The source disclosed that Dr Chilufya had many people under his payroll in the government, the PF and “even in ACC.”
“So, he is receiving a lot of intel. He knows what is happening all the time. So this gives him time to prepare ways to frustrate the looming arrest,” the source said.
When he didn’t turn up as summoned on Tuesday, the ACC released a statement saying, “Following media inquiries on the above subject matter, the Anti-Corruption Commission wishes to confirm that it has been conducting investigations against Minister of Health Hon. Chitalu Chilufya on alleged possession of property reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime. The Commission has since conducted interviews with Dr. Chilufya and a warn and caution statement has been recorded. Investigations in this matter are still on- going, however, further details cannot be divulged as this may jeopardise the investigations”.