An aerial view of customers standing in a queue outside Makro in Soweto, Johannesburg on March 24, 2020. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on March 23, 2020 announced a 21-day national lockdown to start later this week to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus which has affected more than 400 people and ordered the military to enforce the ban.
AFP/Marco Longari
Economic fears as Africa escalates coronavirus response
Philippe Siuberski (Agence France-Presse) - March 25, 2020 - 8:26am

DAKAR, Senegal — African nations have ordered curfews and lockdowns in response to the growing coronavirus epidemic, raising fears of turmoil for low-income workers and cash-strapped governments across the continent.

Cases have risen across the world's poorest continent over the past week to a total of 2,137 and 62 deaths, according to an AFP tally, prompting countries to enact strict counter measures.

South Africa, the continent's most developed economy — which at 554 cases has Africa's largest outbreak — on Monday announced a nationwide lockdown. 

"Without decisive action, the number of people infected will rapidly increase... to hundreds of thousands," South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the time. 

There are fears that weak health infrastructure in Africa will leave the continent particularly exposed to an outbreak on the scale of virus-stricken Europe. 

Other countries are following suit with similar measures. More are expected to be announced in the coming days.

On Monday, Senegal and Ivory Coast both declared states of emergency and ordered night-time curfews. 

Ivory Coast on Tuesday said it had recorded 73 coronavirus cases in total and would lock areas down progressively, depending on how the virus spreads. 

Senegal has recorded 86 coronavirus cases to date, its health ministry said on Tuesday. Ivory Coast has 25 known coronavirus cases. 

Ivory Coast PM in self-isolation

In a sign of coronavirus' increasing reach, Ivory Coast's Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly said on Twitter on Tuesday that he was in a self-isolation after coming into contact with a positive case.

As the virus spreads, there are also fears that poor and debt-saddled countries will unable to provide an adequate response.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday asked G20 leaders for $150 billion in emergency funding to deal with coronavirus, saying that it "poses an existential threat" to the economies of African countries.

He added that creditors should partly write off national debt for low-income countries.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France's parliament on Tuesday that there would be a European financial aid package for poor countries fighting the virus. 

"I'm thinking in particular about Africa," he said.

'How do we pay the rent?'

Adopting lockdowns and social distancing measures in poor African nations is also generating economic worries at the local level.

Homes are often overcrowded, and workers in the informal economy cannot self-isolate at home without abandoning their livelihoods.

Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation's regional director for Africa, admitted these difficulties in a briefing with reporters last week. 

She said such measures were "quite a challenge" and that the WHO is working on other approaches such as making hand sanitisers more widely available.

Locals are increasingly concerned as containment measures bite. 

"They're closing down the stalls, the restaurants, but how are we supposed to feed our families?" asked Nemy Fery, who runs a street-food stall in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's main city. 

He added that he would try selling takeaway meals -- and look for another job.  

There are similar concerns in Muslim-majority Senegal, where the authorities were already struggling last week to enforce a ban on praying in mosques. 

Sabah Amar, who works in a souvenir shop, said that Senegalese people "will die of hunger" before they succumb to coronavirus.

Several people interviewed by AFP in Dakar nonetheless said they supported the government's coronavirus measures. 

"I prefer that everything closes. We're not selling anything anyway," said Amar. "Otherwise we're all going to die."

In the north of the continent, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli on Tuesday announced a two-week night-time curfew.  

And in the east, cases have doubled in Rwanda, to 36, while South Sudan has closed its air and land borders, except for food and fuel supplies.

Rising cases

The archipelago nation of Cape Verde on Tuesday announced its first coronavirus fatality after a 62-year-old British tourist died.

Cameroon also recorded its first death — a man who had contracted the disease in Italy and tested positive on March 14, according to Health Minister Manachi Manaouda.

Four people have died in Burkina Faso, which is West Africa's worst-hit country with 115 confirmed cases. 

Countries that have announced strict containment measures are turning to the army to enforce them. 

Military patrols in Senegal will ensure people respecting the dusk-to-dawn curfew, for example.

South Africa's president has also said the army will enforce his country's lockdown. 

Nombulelo Tyokolo, 41, a domestic worker  in Cape Town, who shares a one-bedroom shack with her son, told AFP she was worried about how the lockdown will work. 

"I am scared, worried and panicking about 21 days indoors," she said.

"We have to fetch water outside and go outside to the toilets. God have mercy." — with AFP Africa bureaux

AFRICA NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 4, 2020 - 4:09pm

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

April 4, 2020 - 4:09pm

The Department of Health reports 76 more local cases of the coronavirus disease 2019, bringing the official tally to 3,094 from the previous count of 3,018.

April 3, 2020 - 12:58pm

The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. assures the public that they will shoulder the full cost of treatment for all COVID-19 patients until April 14, 2020.

"The reason for this accommodation window is due to the novelty and the wide range of severity of the disease in the country for which no existing case rate or package based on accepted protocols has yet been established," it says in a statement.

Philhealth says they will issue a new set of guidelines after the final protocol is established.

April 3, 2020 - 10:22am

The UN General Assembly has approved a resolution calling for "international cooperation" and "multilateralism" in the fight against COVID-19, in the first text to come out of the international body since the pandemic's outbreak.

The resolution, which was approved by consensus, also stresses "the need for full respect for human rights" and that "there is no place for any form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the response to the pandemic." — AFP

April 3, 2020 - 8:04am

The cruise ship Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers on board and was not allowed to dock in several South American countries, arrivsd Thursday in port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The liner was finally cleared for docking after long negotiations between Holland America Line, local and state officials, and the US Coast Guard, to ensure the safe disembarkation of the healthy — and the sick. — AFP

April 2, 2020 - 5:02pm

The Department of Health confirms 11 COVID-19 patients have died in the Philippines, raising the total number of fatalities to 107.

The Philippines also recorded 322 new coronavirus cases, bringing the national total to 2,633.

As of Thursday afternoon, one additional patient recovered from the deadly virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to 51.

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