Humans crossing into Uganda from the different border points are prohibited going forward. This is until we find coordination at the East African level. Please stay where you are. We are not against anyone but this is about manageability. #COVID-19 #M7Address. pic.twitter.com/bdECxIE92I
— Yoweri K Museveni (@KagutaMuseveni) March 21, 2020
East Africa’s battle with Coronavirus
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to rise in East Africa, as the region's countries close borders, block public gatherings, and take other measures to deal with the pandemic.
Kenya confirmed it now has 15 cases, just a week after it identified its first one.
Among the suspected new cases is a deputy governor of one of the 47 counties who flew back into the country from Germany on 7 March and refused to self-quarantine.
He interacted with his boss and colleagues soon after his return, and also with those living along Kenya’s coast.
The deputy governor will be charged for violating the quarantine rules, the country’s health ministry said in Nairobi on Sunday.
Tanzania’s President John Magufuli announced that the country’s confirmed cases had risen to 12, including four foreign nationals.
As part of Dodoma’s measures to curb further spread, visitors to the country will also be required to self-quarantine; at their own expense.
Uganda has also confirmed its first case over the weekend: a 36-year old citizen who flew in Saturday morning from Dubai.
Kampala has taken extensive precautions to protect itself from the pandemic, including closing its borders to people flying in from hard-hit countries.
On Sunday, President Yoweri Museveni announced that “Starting 12:00 pm on Sunday 22 March, 2020, no passenger planes or human movement [is] allowed to enter or leave the country. Only Cargo planes and their crew members will be allowed in the country.”
This has become the standard across many countries, as critical supplies are needed as to cope with the pandemic.
In Ethiopia, the number of cases has rised to 11, as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration announced it would shut down schools and ban public gatherings.
Thank you @JackMa & the @AlibabaGroup for sending the first wave of #COVID-19 prevention materials. Support includes 1.1million testing kits,6million masks & 60,000 protective suits to be distributed throughout Africa. Distribution to other countries will begin as of tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/tHsiwoWFjY
— Abiy Ahmed Ali 🇪🇹 (@AbiyAhmedAli) March 22, 2020
The country’s national airline, Ethiopian Airlines, has also suspended flights to 30 countries. The airline still has a major role in fighting the pandemic as it delivered test kits and medical supplies donated by China’s Jack Ma, co-founder and former executive chair of Alibaba Group.
Ethiopian transported COVID-19 medical equipment donated by Jack Ma Foundation to Africa. The medical equipment will be distributed through Ethiopian Airlines to the 54 African countries.#Ethiopianairlines #AlibabaGroup pic.twitter.com/QxzycMYxbO
— Ethiopian Airlines (@flyethiopian) March 22, 2020
Such vital supplies arrived in Addis Ababa on Sunday and to other regional countries.
Thank you @JackMa and @foundation_ma for your generous donation of test kits delivered in Kigali today. This is a huge shot in the arm and a much needed contribution in our work to stop the spread of #Coronavirus. I know the people of Rwanda join me in gratitude
— Paul Kagame (@PaulKagame) March 20, 2020
Coronavirus hitting at all levels of society
As the pandemic spreads across East Africa, the question that crops up beyond healthcare and preventative measures is what effects will it have on both society and the economy.
At the social level, it has already altered critical social gatherings such as parties, weddings and funerals, with all the countries laying down rules to minimize exposure at such types of events.
We can not ban or postpone burials for 32 days, it will not be good. We, therefore, recommend that burials should be done by relatives nearby, the rituals and mourning could be done at a later stage. It is only safe. #COVID19UG #M7Address pic.twitter.com/2SSr1yHiUH
— Yoweri K Museveni (@KagutaMuseveni) March 18, 2020
It has also opened up numerous fronts in the fight against fake news, with Kenya arresting two people so far for spreading false reports about the pandemic.
Preventative measures will also affect law enforcement.
Ethiopia has announced it will be releasing prisoners who were jailed for minor offences but have served most of their terms.
Kenya has employed measures to stop the possible entry of the virus into its prisons that are overcrowded and would be hard hit.
It has also banned prison visits and asked officials to limit movement within the jails.
As countries impose measures to curb the pandemic, there are concerns of what this will mean for the free movement of people.
Security issues that have forced refugees to seek shelter in neighboring countries remain, but other border-related issues, such as land borders are now under permanent surveillance to stop the spread of Coronavid-19.
Even fluid borders such as Kenya’s with Somalia and Ethiopia, are now being monitored from the ground the air.
There are also well-founded fears that xenophobia, especially against the Chinese, will escalate across the region. In late February, a Kenyan man was caught on video accusing two Chinese nationals of having the virus.
On 18 March , the US Embassy in Ethiopia said it had received reports of “a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of COVID-19 in Ethiopia.
Typical derogatory comments were directed at foreigners, including the terms “China” and “Ferengi” (foreigner), which have reportedly been coupled with the label “Corona.”
The Embassy has noted an online message regarding Chinese wearing masks in Athi River. After verification with the Chinese communities, we wish to inform the public that there is only ONE female Chinese national who stays in that estate and arrived in Kenya yesterday.
— Chinese Embassy in Kenya (@ChineseEmbKenya) February 27, 2020
Vital online access
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign promises in 2013 was to build a digital economy, including e-learning. But that project has generally been seen as a failure. At time like now, with schools closed, parents are grappling with homeschooling, looking to online resources for ideas and to share with others.
In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Ahmed’s administration’s decision to cut off regions such as Western Oromia from phone and internet services for security reasons last year, is now proving problematic in the fight against the pandemic.
The Ethiopian government’s refusal to restore phone & network access makes it likely that millions of Ethiopians are left in dark threatening public health. It should urgently restore access in western Oromia @hrw https://t.co/631nCKVQqe @lia_tadesse@AbiyAhmedAli
— Laetitia Bader (@LaetitiaBader) March 20, 2020
“Millions of Ethiopians living under a months-long government-imposed shutdown of internet and phone services in western Oromia are being left in the dark about the health risks,” wrote Leititia Barder of the Human Rights Watch.
Even if East Africa manages to curb the pandemic before it overwhelms available health services, it is already clear that its lasting effect on societies will be evident is nearly all aspects. Elections will have to be postponed, budgets restructured, and social safety nets rethought.