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East Africa’s battle with Coronavirus

By Morris Kiruga
Posted on Monday, 23 March 2020 14:09

Ethiopian Airlines worker transports a consignment of medical donation from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and Alibaba Foundation to Africa in Addis Ababa
An Ethiopian Airlines worker transports a consignment of medical donation from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and Alibaba Foundation to Africa for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing in Addis Ababa, March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

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 

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  

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.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: “We’ve gone from looming threat to looming disaster”

Uganda 

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.

 

Ethiopia 

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.

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.

Such vital supplies arrived in Addis Ababa on Sunday and to other regional countries.

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.

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.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: “It would be suicidal for Africa not to learn the lessons from Europe.”

Law enforcement 

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.

Free movement

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.

Mounting xenophobia

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.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: U.S. vs. China in the battle of perceptions

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.

“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.

Bottom line

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.

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