By Frank Phiri
BLANTYRE (Reuters) - Two senior Malawian cabinet ministers and two other senior political figures died on Tuesday from COVID-19, the government said.
The deaths followed a cabinet meeting and other gatherings attended by politicians over the Christmas period, but officials did not say where the victims were infected.
Local Government Minister Lingson Berekanyama and Transport Minister Sidik Mia both succumbed to the disease in the early hours of Tuesday, the government spokesman said.
They were senior members of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the main partner in an alliance that unseated ex-leader Peter Mutharika in a second round election in June last year, delivering victory to President Lazarus Chakwera. Mia had been tipped as a possible successor to Chakwera.
All 31 of Malawi's cabinet attended the meeting in the president's oval office on Dec. 21, and the following day labour minister Ken Kandodo reporting having contracted the coronavirus. He has since recovered. Another minister, Rashid Gaffar, is self-isolating at home.
There were several gatherings, prayers and a funeral in the country over the Christmas period which Chakwera and other officials attended, all of them broadcast on state TV.
"Malawi has lost a true patriot, a hard worker,” spokesman Kazako said of Berekanyama, breaking down in tears on public radio as he reported the news.
The former Governor of Malawi's central bank, Francis Perekamoyo, and the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Ernest Kantchentche, also died of the disease, the government announced.
Chakwera is due to address the nation at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) on Tuesday.
On Monday Malawi recorded 452 new Covid cases and 10 new deaths, the highest daily average since the first case was confirmed in April, the co-chair of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID, John Phuka, said in a statement.
He said Malawi now had a cumulative total of 9,027 cases, and 235 deaths. Some 1,852 of the cases were imported cases, mostly from returnees from South Africa, where a new highly contagious variant of the virus was found.
(Editing by Tim Cocks and Giles Elgood)