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Coronavirus: Namibia praised for containing the virus

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Corona Chronicles: 25 May – 29 May

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Wednesday, 27 May 2020 14:42, updated on Thursday, 28 May 2020 08:20

Namibian President Geingob arrives for the inauguration of Ramaphosa as South African president, at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria
Namibia's President Namibian President Hage Geingob, at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The Republic of Namibia has been praised for its containment of the spread of the coronavirus. Its index case came mid-March, but for 45 days (7 April to 21 May) no new cases were recorded.

Updated at 21:00 paris

Although a few cases have since been recorded since 22 May, the country only has 21 confirmed cases, and 0 deaths from the virus.

Reasons for success

Namibia responded to COVID-19 through a collective response of many stakeholders, both governmental and non-governmental. The government was quick to draw on lessons from other countries that had already been hit by the pandemic, and listened to the advice and received technical support from various stakeholders.

“With confirmation of the first two cases of COVID-19 on 13 March 2020, President Hage G. Geingob acted swiftly within the next 10 hours to ban inbound and outbound travel from Addis Ababa and Doha”, says Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari, spokesperson to the President of Namibia. “A state of emergency was declared by the President with strong emphasis on the health of Namibians as the first priority.”

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The closure of its borders on 24 March included a ban of travel into the nation from all countries for a 30-day period. Citizens and permanent residents inside the country were not allowed to leave, whereas those caught outside the borders at the time of the closure were permitted to enter only “if their mission was critical to national interest,” said the health minister. Those people then needed to observe a mandatory and supervised quarantine for 14 days.

Early reaction, fruitful return

These restrictions were put in place when the country had reported only two cases, and this early response was crucial in their success in controlling the virus.

Prime Minister Saara Kuungongelwa-Amandhila said the country “tried to nip the problem in the bud.” The government also rolled out a healthcare programme to ensure that they had the health facilities needed to isolate and treat people, as well as all necessary equipment.

COVID-19 has affected the global economy, and in a country with high levels of inequalities as is the case for Namibia, this had to be taken into consideration.

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A once-off income grant was given to the most vulnerable people in society, as well as food packages. Stimulus packages were also given to assist businesses that would need capital to keep their activities going.

According to the Prime Minister: “The majority of especially indigenous communities get livelihood from the informal sector and these were being closed.”

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It is hard to convince people to adhere to a lockdown if there is a chance they will starve, and so the grant and stimulus food packages were essential in ensuring that the lockdown rules were followed.

After a period of time with no new cases being recorded, Namibia opened up the country internally to movement, but kept their borders closed to prevent new cases being brought in from abroad.

It could be argued that Namibia’s sparse population is one of the significant reasons for its containment success, as high densities increase the spread of the virus. Namibia has a population density of 3 per square kilometre.

By comparison to countries with the highest numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Africa, such as South Africa with nearly 24,000 cases and a population density of 49 per square kilometre, and Egypt with just under 18,000 cases with a population density of 84 per square kilometre, it’s easy to understand how the virus would spread more easily in those countries than in Namibia.

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Although Namibia has a sparse population, it does have pockets of high density communities, where the risk of infection could be very high. However, before many of the cases spread to the outlying areas, the government was quick to lockdown the capital Windhoek, as well as the coastal region of Erongo, as these areas had the most confirmed cases at the start.

Lessons for post-COVID-19

Many countries have been faced to accept the shortcomings of their respective countries in terms of health care and social organisation. But perhaps the eye-opening situation will force about change.

READ MORE Coronavirus: together we can come out stronger and united

In the case of Namibia, the Prime Minister said: “let’s take what we have learned from COVID to beyond the period.” There is a need to “strengthen healthcare systems, ensure women are included, build resilience including economic resilience,” she said.

The government is aiming to diversify the Namibian economy by making the country more self-reliant, making it better prepared to deal with emergencies in the future.

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