Covid-19 in Africa: ‘Unprecedented Levels of Mobilization’ as Nations Brace for Pandemic

By Amanda Lichtenstein

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.

With at least 19 African countries now facing COVID-19, several governments have taken critical steps toward mitigation and management, including travel restrictions, health screenings at ports of entry, rapid testing and social distancing measures.

COVID-19, a previously unknown disease caused by the potentially deadly coronavirus, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11. It has claimed the lives of 4,955 people globally as of March 13, 2020, according to WHO.

As of March 14, WHO reports 215 total cases across Africa and five reported deaths.

The following nations have reported more than 15 cases of COVID-19: Algeria (37), Egypt (93), Senegal (19), South Africa (24), and Tunisia (16). These nations have less than 15 cases: Burkina Faso (2), Cameroon (2), Côte d’Ivoire (1), Democratic Republic of Congo (2), Ethiopia (1), Gabon (1), Guinea (1), Kenya (1), Mauritania (1), Morocco (7), Namibia (2), Nigeria (2), Sudan (1), and Togo (1).

Nearly every single case of the virus in Africa can be traced back to travel through Europe, which has now become the epicenter of the pandemic. This has prompted several African nations to make the historic decision to place travel restrictions on travelers coming from nations with high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

For example, Uganda took the unprecedented measure to restrict travel from 16 countries with high numbers of cases of COVID-19, including China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Meanwhile, the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, part of the United Republic of Tanzania, reportedly announced that it would restrict charter flights from Italy, where COVID-19 cases are soaring. But these restrictions did not apply to China, a country that does major trade and business with Tanzania. Kenya has also halted direct flights from Italy to coastal resorts in Mombasa.

Nigeria has not imposed any travel restrictions but strongly advised against trips to countries with high levels of COVID-19 transmission such as  China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. In addition, the West African country has suggested a 14-day self-isolation measure for travelers from these countries.

Liberia, with no known COVID-19 cases but with extensive experience with the highly infectious Ebola disease, has imposed a compulsory 14-day quarantine in an observation center for anyone coming from Germany, where COVID-19 cases are rapidly on the rise. Similarly, Democratic Republic of Congo is implementing a 14-day self-quarantine regimen for anyone flying in from France, Germany, Italy and China.

“The Ebola epidemic in 2014 led to flight shutdowns, visa bans and quarantine regimes that affected thousands of travelers from the three West African countries at the heart of the outbreak,” according to The Globe and Mail.

One netizen called this moment — when African governments are now in the position to ban travelers from Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom — “a turning point in history”:

Mobilization and preparedness

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout Africa, citizens and governments alike have debated African nations’ abilities to handle the crisis in terms of health care, disaster preparedness, communication, and response.

But “many African health officials bristle at the suggestion that they are not adequately addressing the crisis, saying there has been an unprecedented level of mobilization for COVID-19, as well as a growing reserve of experience to draw on,” according to the BBC.

Once the first cases were reported in Ethiopia and Kenya, both of which have capital cities that serve as major transport hubs, these nations immediately banned large gatherings and urged citizens to practice “social distancing” — a term used to describe minimizing contact with other people and maintaining a distance of at least six feet if you must interact — to slow the spread of the virus.

When Nigeria alerted the world to the existence of its index COVID-19 case, WHO’s director-general, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, praised the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) for its transparency and swiftness in sharing the information:

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