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South Africa orders lockdown as continent moves to stop virus spread

Susan Njanji - Agence France-Presse
South Africa orders lockdown as continent moves to stop virus spread
Members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) are seen outside the Rand Light Infantry Regiment Base in Craighall Park, Johannesburg, on March 23, 2020, ahead of an address to the nation by President Cyril Ramaphosa on steps to stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the country, which now has the highest infections in sub-Saharan Africa. On March 23, 2020, South Africa announced 402 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus, an increase of 128 from the March 22, 2020 tally.
AFP / Michele Spatari

PRETORIA, South Africa — Numerous sub-Saharan countries acted to stem the spread of coronavirus on Monday, with South Africa announcing a soldier-patrolled lockdown and Senegal and Ivory Coast each declaring a state of emergency. 

The pandemic had been slow to spread in Africa compared to the Middle East and Europe, but in recent days the number of deaths and infections have increased, sparking concerns about the continent's vulnerability to contagious diseases.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government had "decided to enforce a nationwide lockdown for 21 days" from midnight Thursday to "avoid a human catastrophe".

There have been more than 400 coronavirus cases in Africa's most developed economy — the highest in sub-Saharan Africa — with the number multiplying six-fold in just eight days.

Ramaphosa said the numbers could spiral given that South Africa has "a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of high HIV and TB and high levels of poverty and malnutrition."

"This is a decisive measure to save millions of South Africans from infection," he said. "Without decisive action, the number of people infected will rapidly increase... to hundreds of thousands."

Ramaphosa said the army would patrol the streets along with the police to ensure the ban is respected.

'The situation is critical'

More African countries are expected to announce tough confinement measures after sealing their borders and closing public places. 

Senegal declared a state of emergency as well as a dusk-to-dawn curfew starting on Tuesday.

"I say this to you with solemnity — the situation is critical. The speed of the progress of the disease requires us to raise the level of the response," Senegalese President Macky Sall said late Monday,  calling the pandemic a "true world war".

Fellow West African nation Ivory Coast ordered a similar curfew, as well as progressive confinements measures based on the geographic spread of the virus.

In the centre of the continent, DR Congo locked down its second city Lubumbashi for 48 hours on Monday and deployed security forces. Streets were deserted and stores were closed, an AFP journalist said.

The move came after two people with coronavirus arrived on Sunday on a flight from the capital Kinshasa.

The DRC has recorded 30 cases of coronavirus since March 10, two of them fatalities.

Rising cases

Africa hasn't yet suffered the kind of terrifying rise in virus cases seen elsewhere.

The reason for this is unclear, but many African countries have used the precious time to impose travel restrictions, close schools and appeal for social distancing.

However, those numbers are now rising significantly.

According to a toll compiled by AFP, the number of known cases across the continent — including North Africa — stood at more than 1,600 on Monday, of which some 50 have been fatal.

The first detected case south of the Sahara was announced in the Nigerian city of Lagos on February 28, and the first death was reported in the Sahel state of Burkina Faso last Wednesday.

That was followed by fatalities in Gabon, the DRC and Mauritius.

On Monday, three more countries were added to this list: Nigeria — the most populous country in Africa — as well as The Gambia in western Africa, and Zimbabwe in the south.

All three deaths were of individuals who had arrived after making extensive trips abroad.

Peril for Africa

Ghana on Monday closed schools and universities and suspended public events, while in Burkina Faso a security source said the authorities "were thinking more and more about total confinement of the population for two or three weeks".

Rwanda late Saturday barred all "non-essential" movement, Gabon imposed a night curfew, while the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius began a 14-day lockdown on Friday.

Health experts have sounded loud and repeated warnings about Africa's vulnerability to coronavirus.

Crowded shantytowns, poor sanitation and decrepit health infrastructure offer ideal opportunities for the lethal microbe.

"The system itself is overstretched and inadequate to deal with a coronavirus epidemic," Zimbabwean doctor Norman Matara told AFP last week. 

But lockdowns too can have a catastrophic effect in countries where there is little or no social safety net to help people buy food or pay their bills.

"In reality, partial or total confinement could have disastrous effects for the African continent," Cameroonian writer Calixthe Beyala said on her Facebook page.

NOVEL CORONAVIRUS

SOUTH AFRICA

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 25, 2022 - 4:46pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

June 25, 2022 - 4:46pm

China reports zero new COVID-19 infections in Shanghai for the first time since March on Saturday, as the country's latest outbreak subsides after months of virus-spurred lockdowns and restrictions.

China is the last major economy still committed to a zero-Covid strategy, stamping out new cases with a combination of targeted lockdowns, mass testing and lengthy quarantines.

The economic hub of Shanghai was forced into a months-long lockdown during a Covid surge this spring driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, while the capital Beijing shuttered schools and offices for weeks over a separate outbreak. — AFP

June 13, 2022 - 4:20pm

Beijing starts a new round of mass testing in its most populous downtown district after a rapidly spreading outbreak linked to a bar saw Covid rules tightened again in the capital.

A night of partying by one Beijing resident last week threw the city's tentative reopening into chaos, leading authorities to shutter nightlife venues in the downtown district of Chaoyang days after they reopened last Monday. 

The resident, who did not get tested for 14 days, went to several bars and nightlife venues in Chaoyang in the days before and after developing a fever.

The outbreak stemming from the Heaven Supermarket bar has infected at least 183 people in 15 districts so far. — Agence France Presse

June 9, 2022 - 1:04pm

City authorities say that Shanghai will lock down a district of 2.7 million people on Saturday to conduct mass coronavirus testing as the Chinese metropolis struggles to fully emerge from punishing curbs.

The city eased many restrictions last week, after confining most of its 25 million residents to their homes since March as China battled its worst COVID-19 outbreak in two years.

But the lockdown was never fully lifted, with hundreds of thousands in China's biggest city still restricted to their homes and multiple residential compounds put under fresh stay-home orders.— AFP

June 5, 2022 - 5:09pm

City officials say Beijing will gradually lift COVID-19 restrictions this week.

After some easing in recent days, the Chinese capital -- which reported 19 new infections Sunday -- announced residents would start returning to work from Monday and schools would reopen from June 13.

China is wedded to a zero-COVID strategy of hard lockdowns, mass testing and long quarantine periods to wipe out clusters as they emerge. — AFP

June 2, 2022 - 7:32am

The World Health Organization laments Wednesday that it had no access to data about North Korea's COVID-19 outbreak, but assumed the crisis was deepening, contrary to Pyongyang's reports of "progress".

North Korea, which announced its first ever coronavirus cases on May 12, said last week its COVID-19 outbreak had been brought under control, with state media reporting falling caseloads.

But WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan questions that claim. — AFP

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