A High Court judge on Thursday ordered the Department of Immigration not to deport four Chinese nationals upon their arrival in the country.
The court order comes at a time the highly contagious Covid-19 has claimed more than 8 778 lives by this week, with new infections confirmed in the neighbouring Zambia and Tanzania.
The four were among 14 Chinese nationals who arrived in the country on Tuesday, but the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services managed to send back to China 10 of them on Wednesday.
The court order we have seen, obtained by Lilongwe-based lawyers, Wilkinson & Associates, and granted by Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda, also forced the Department of Immigration to remove the four from quarantine at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) and allowed them entry into the country.
China, the first nation to register coronavirus cases, started enforcing a14-day quarantine on all international travellers arriving into that country, and almost all countries, including Malawi, followed suit.
But in this case, it means Malawi, owing to this court order that was granted without the court hearing from Immigration or the Attorney General (AG), failed to enforce the restriction on these four Chinese as they only stayed in quarantine for two days.
Upon the arrival of the 14 Chinese on Tuesday, the Immigration refused to grant them visas and decided to send them back to China as being one of the drastic measures most countries have taken.
Department of Immigration spokesperson at KIA, Martin Gongolo, said in an interview on Friday that the department wanted to send back the 14, but 10 of them had return tickets.
He said the 14 were put in isolation at the airport as there were no flights to take them back to China.
“We put the 14 in isolation here at KIA. We sent back to China the 10 on Wednesday as they had their return tickets and we expected the four to sort out their ticket issues.
“The four took advantage of the time they had to sort out the tickets and instructed their lawyers to seek the court’s relief. Their lawyers got the injunction which was served on us today [Friday, March 20] before the departure time of their flight. We have complied with the court order, we had no choice,” Gongolo said.
Nyirenda granted the injunction without hearing from the director general of Immigration and AG, first and second respondents respectively, advising them that should they want to have the injunction varied or discharged, local lawyers for the Chinese nationals must be notified 48 hours beforehand.
The judge stated the injunction was valid up to March 26 2020 the same day an inter partes hearing will be held on the case.
The court’s relief is coming at a time political leaders, business captains and sport administrators are taking drastic measures that include restrictions on visas, cancellations of flights and postponement of sporting activities as a means to slow or stop the spread of the virus.
In the court order, the judge restrained the Immigration from sending back to China Lin Xiaoxiao, Liu Zhigin, Wang Xia and Tian Hongze, warning if the order was disobeyed, they risked to be imprisoned or have their assets seized.
Malawi is still safe from the coronavirus which started in China before it spread globally, but other African countries affected include South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Senegal, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria and Morocco.