Africa battered by vicious pandemic
Publish date: 30 March 2020
Issue Number: 866
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: Covid-19 crisis
A decade ago, preparations for the football World Cup were being finalised and the continent took its place as the centre of the universe. Legalbrief reports that ‘Africa’s time has come’ was Fifa's catch-phrase and Shakira summed up the mood of the moment with her hit song This Time For Africa. There is bitter irony that the pandemic which has ravaged large parts of the planet is now bearing down on Africa and gathering speed. The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) yesterday warned that the continent is two to three weeks away from the worst of the storm and needs an emergency economic stimulus of $100bn to bolster preventative measures and support its fragile healthcare systems. A Fin24 report notes that almost half of the funds could come from waiving interest payments to multilateral institutions. 'If we want to have a fighting chance, we need it immediately,' said UNECA executive secretary Vera Songwe. 'In the next two to three weeks, if we act really decisively, we may be able to flatten the curve and then when the storm comes it will be not be as brutal as we see in Europe.' There are more than 3 000 Covid-19 infections in 46 countries across the continent, according to the Addis Ababa-based Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
As African hospitals and healthcare workers brace for a likely avalanche of critically ill Covid-19 patients, they may soon be faced with a disastrous shortage of life-saving ventilators. The grim reality of a global undersupply of ventilators means many who could have been saved by being placed on one, will die. Africa is not currently on the top of supply lists. A representative of a major global brand of ventilators and other medical equipment told News24 that supply chains are focusing on getting machines to the countries that need them most. ‘There is definitely a shortage of ventilators (globally), and we are all trying our best to give everyone a fair chance. It’s also unfair to now try to jump the queue. Africa is unfortunately at the back of the line right now,’ said Marius Fourie, the managing director of Draeger SA. The German company is one of the top manufacturers of ventilators in the world.
France is planning to organise financial aid for poor countries, especially in Africa, to assist them with the pandemic. ‘We will have the opportunity to mobilise a real financial package, of help, to prevent this epidemic from veering towards regions or sub-continents which aren't contaminated today but could be a risk for us tomorrow,’ said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. A report on the News24 site notes that experts have repeatedly warned that Africa is deeply vulnerable to the new virus.
President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered residents of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja to stay at home for 14 days with immediate effect. ‘All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period,’ he said. A report on the allAfrica site notes that he said the governors as well as the heads of security and intelligence agencies have been briefed.
In Kenya, police have fired teargas at a crowd of ferry commuters in the port city of Mombasa and officers were captured in mobile phone footage hitting people with batons. The Guardian reports that the Interior Ministry issued a statement saying the curfew ‘is meant to guard against an apparent threat to public health ... breaking it is not only irresponsible but also puts others in harm’s way.’ A report on the News24 site notes that human rights groups have condemned the ‘unnecessary and excessive use of force’ by the police as the country imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew. ‘We continue to receive testimonies from victims, eyewitnesses and video footage showing police gleefully assaulting members of the public in other parts of the country,’ 20 rights groups, including Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Staying in Kenya, a South African who was placed in forced quarantine at the Industrial Training Institute in Nakuru has died in an apparent suicide. A report on the IoL site notes that Health Department spokesperson Gichuki Kariuki said Elizabeth Holloway, who was in her 20s, hanged herself after her requests to be quarantined in a hotel were refused. According to local media reports, Holloway tested positive after she arrived in Kenya from SA and was expected to self-isolate. Holloway apparently absconded and was apprehended in Mai Mahiu on Thursday from where she was then transported to the disused training facility. Two other people were also being forcefully quarantined at the same location.
SA's Constitutional Court has dismissed an NGO’s application seeking leave to challenge President Cyril Ramaphosa's order to implement a 21-day lockdown. The Hola Bon Renaissance Foundation applied for direct access to the Constitutional Court on an urgent basis. A report on the News24 site notes that the court said the case had no prospect of success and decided not to award costs. The foundation had approached the court to declare that Ramaphosa abused his powers when he called for the lockdown.
Also in SA, the first judgment arising from the lockdown regulations occurred at the Mpumalanga High Court, which rejected an application from someone who wanted to travel across provinces for a funeral. In handing down judgment, the court said the case ‘displays the crude effects of the final lockdown regulations upon a family’. The Mail & Guardian reports that Karel van Heerden approached the court urgently on Friday after his grandfather, who lived in the Eastern Cape, died. ‘I have extreme sympathy for the applicant, but I must uphold the law,’ said Judge Johannes Roelofse. ‘I cannot accede to the relief the applicant seeks because in doing so, I will be authorising the applicant to break the law under judicial decree – that no court can do.’
And a Cape Town court has allowed a US couple to leave SA with their newly-adopted son on one of the last pre-lockdown flights, ruling against the Department of Home Affairs. Kelly and Laura McCollough, who arrived in SA in February to finalise the adoption of nine-year-old Ricardo, had faced being stuck in SA, not only because of the lockdown but also because Home Affairs had not processed Ricardo's name-change application nor issued the new birth certificate he needed to apply for a South African passport, notes the Sunday Times report. Earlier this month, the US issued an urgent travel advisory that citizens must return home – and then the lockdown was announced. And the head of a Cape Town body corporate has been slapped with a demand for $1 100 compensation after kicking out an Italian Airbnb tenant because he feared he might have Covid-19. Apartment owner Martine du Preez has also told Alan Shearer, body corporate chair at the upmarket New Cumberland block in Mouille Point, that she will take him to the Equality Court and the Human Rights Commission if he does not apologise.
And Germany says it is trying to track down 6m face masks ordered to protect health workers, which have gone missing from an airport in Kenya. Der Spiegel said the shipment was due in Germany on 20 March but never arrived after disappearing at the end of last week. BBC News reports that it is unclear why the masks were in Kenya. An unidentified source is quoted as saying ‘whether this is a matter of theft or a provider who isn’t serious, is being cleared up by customs’. However, CapitalFM reports that the Kenya Airports Authority has dismissed the claims which were published in several international media organisations, including Reuters and Agence France Presse. ‘Our investigation has concluded that there was no cargo of this nature that has passed through JKIA (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport) for the past two weeks and no missing cargo has been reported to the authorities,’ the Kenya Airports Authority said in a statement.
In other developments:
* Egypt has expelled a correspondent for The Guardian over a report citing a study that challenged the official count of coronavirus cases in the Arab world's most populous country. Ruth Michaelson has returned to the UK after Western diplomats informed her that Egyptian security services ordered her to leave ‘immediately’.
* A separatist militia in Cameroon is to down its weapons for a fortnight so people can be tested for the coronavirus. The Southern Cameroons Defence Forces said its ceasefire would come into effect from yesterday as ‘a gesture of goodwill’.
* The Malian Government has denied media reports that it has no ventilators available. It claims they currently have 56 for a population of 17m.
* Morocco has allocated $201m to bolster medical equipment needed to fight the virus, including the purchase of 100 000 testing kits. The money would also be used to buy medicine, provide 1 000 new intensive care beds and 550 ventilators.
* Health and Child Care Minister Obadiah Moyo yesterday said Zimbabwe required at least US$100m to set up a war chest to fight the disease with the purchase of testing equipment and ventilators. 'This is what is required for us to meet all our requirements. Government has raised some money, but it is not enough. We need support from donors to be able to confront the disease,' he said.
* Nigeria's petroleum regulator has ordered oil and gas companies to reduce their offshore workforce and move to 28-day staff rotations as part of measures to curb the spread. This after the Nigerian Ports Authority said six workers on board an offshore rig support vessel tested positive for coronavirus late last week.
* Ugandan police on Friday said two men were in hospital after being shot for violating orders. President Yoweri Museveni has urged people to stay home but has stopped short of ordering a lockdown. In East Africa, Rwanda and Mauritius are the only two nations to implement a total lockdown, while Kenya and South Sudan have a night-time curfew.