Bracing for the pandemic
Covid19 took many Europeans and US Americans by surprise. It has been an abrupt awakening to a new reality.
The spread of the corona virus has reached an alarming speed. With an epicentre currently shifting from Europe to the USA, we need to realise that the rest of the world is not in any way safe from suffering a similar fate.
Countries in Africa and Asia are now bracing themselves from the impending catastrophe. This is a daunting task, seeing that many of these counties are already struggling to overcome poverty and mitigate the adverse effects of colonialism, inequality and climate change.
In this post we will examine how our project countries are faring.
Preparing for the worst
As of 26 March 2020 there have been roughly 2,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections around 43 countries in the African continent. However, by the time you read this, these numbers have changed. Also, we all know too well that the number of cases are much higher than those that have been confirmed.
The tremendously fast rise of the number of affected countries around the world calls for fast action and taking serious measures.
The World Health Organization has made a clear statement that what will be done at this stage in all African countries will determine how severe the consequences will be. It was also noted that the number of confirmed cases is not yet worrisome but it might also not be completely accurate – undetected and unreported cases are very probable.
What makes the risk higher than in other places is the economic instability in many households and limited resources in hospitals and medical institutions. There is only a certain number of intensive care beds available and the chances are only a fraction of those needing urgent care in a case of an outbreak in the size of the one in Europe will manage to receive treatment. Remote rural areas and vulnerable populations including refugees, people suffering from malnutrition, HIV, or chronic diseases are at extremely high risk.
All of those factors lead to the clear conclusion that efforts should be highly focused in preventing the outbreak and limiting the spread as much as possible – fighting it once it has arrived would be a serious challenge. After the Ebola epidemic in 2013-2016 countries in Africa have started taking those issues with extreme care and are perfectly aware of the dangers they present.
The best approach would be to prepare for the worst – this is how the Take 10 project partner countries are currently managing the risks.
Zambia has officially registered only 12 cases of infected with the COVID-19 so far. All of them are people returning from holidays in areas with a growing number of virus victims (one person from Pakistan and two people from France). Critical levels of concern have not yet reached the country, however, the government is implementing the necessary preventive measures to limit the eventual negative impact of further spreading.
Controlling the danger before it has reached a critical level also includes increased screening for travellers and 14-day quarantine and monitoring of anyone entering Zambia from a country with confirmed COVID-19 cases. Those measures were announced on the 14th of March and are currently fully active.
All educational institutions have been temporarily shut down to prevent an outbreak of the virus. Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya has advised to strictly follow social distancing and increased personal and public hygiene. Over 500 health workers are being trained to treat COVID-19 infections in order to secure adequate response in case of increased number of victims starting to surface.
Zambia is one of the countries that cannot afford to take the situation lightly even if the has not yet properly displayed itself. The economy and well-being of people are highly dependent on the adequate preventive measures and the government is doing their best to provide protection.
Church services, as well as operations of bars and night clubs, have been restricted to limit gathering of large crowds as much as possible and the same goes for all public events that are not of national importance. Furthermore, all passengers travelling with the people who were confirmed to be infected with the virus are being monitored for symptoms. 29 000 people who arrived in Zambia have been screened with over 400 put into quarantine due to coming from high-risk countries.
Despite not having any confirmed cases in the country Malawi is also hard at work with preventive measures and preparations to fight and eventual outbreak.
Malawi College of Medicine is rapidly arranging the start of intensive testing for the virus. President of the country – Peter Mutharika officially declared COVID-19 a national disaster and has announced a number of preventive measures to tackle the problem in advance.
Health office employees have been assigned to each of the country’s entry points monitoring food items coming from outside and surveilling people entering and exiting the country. The same measures apply for airports – increased monitoring is active and quarantine centres have been established to react fast to any suspicions of infected tourists or returning population.
Hosting of any meeting and public gathering has been banned and the general public is advised to avoid any non-essential travel inside or outside of Malawi. Educational institutions are closed as of 23rd of March as well until further notice.
Taking those measures ahead of time and before any cases have been confirmed increases the chance of handling a potential crisis and reacting faster when it happens.
So far Mozambique has registered only one officially confirmed case of an infected with the COVID-19 virus. A 75-year-old man returning from a trip to the United Kingdom has been diagnosed with the disease and put into home quarantine as he is only showing mild symptoms and his life is currently not in danger.
Around 350 000 travellers from countries affected by the outbreak have been screened and 1250 of them were put into quarantine as a way of ensuring safety. Government is calling Mozambiquans not to panic and fully comply with the policies surrounding the prevention of the outbreak to increase chances of handling the issue on time. Increased personal and collective hygiene practices were announced by President Felipe Nyusi as this is crucial for preventing infection.
The country is also implementing other regulations including the closing of all educational institutions and mandatory 14-day quarantine for everyone entering the country after the 23rd of March. Social gatherings gave also been banned and all measures will take effect for 30 days as a start.
The small and vulnerable country of Guinea-Bissau is exposed to immense risk if the outbreak reaches its territory. Economic instability and extremely limited resources for fighting such a crisis can have devastating effects.
For this reason, the government has announced the closure of all borders and ban on landing aircrafts at the Bissau Airport. As with every other country currently in danger of a COVID-19 outbreak all educational institutions are closed down together with markets and other businesses that do not provide essential service or supply of goods.
There are no confirmed cases in the country yet, however, the infections in neighbouring Senegal and Guinea-Conakry are a cause of alarm and increased preventive measures. Sports events, concerts, and religious gatherings have also been suspended until further notice in an attempt to prevent large gatherings around the country.
I launch an appeal, the country is on the alert against an invisible enemy. We are very concerned about the scourge of Covid-19 and call for national unity.
– President Umaro Sissoco Embaló
India is also on the move
The growing population of India and unavoidable large crowds in many parts of the country are a reason for worry amongst government officials. India has registered a total of 700 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of 26 March. Twenty-three states have been affected and controlling the spreading of the disease is essential for the future of the country.
Quick and responsible counter-measures are established. After the declaration of Coronavirus as a pandemic, the government of India has been initiating a plan of action to stop the further spreading of the disease in the country. This includes putting the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 in force in an attempt to give governments the necessary means to control the situation faster and ensure regulations are being followed by the population. The act dates back to British colonization times and aims to prevent the massive disease crises by allowing extra authority and power of governments and the implementation of more strict regulations for the public. India has successfully used this means before for coping with swine flu, malaria, and cholera.
What is being done?
80 Indian cities in total have been put on a lockdown and this measure will be implemented for he entire nation. Just imagine: 1,3 billion people confined to their homes!
Already on 19 March, the Prime Minster – Narendra Modi addressed the nation urging everyone to adopt social distancing and follow curfew to limit large gatherings of people. Availability of testing kits and protective equipment has been ensured in hospitals and all non-urgent surgeries have been suspended.
International commercial flights into the country have also been banned for at least one week (starting from 22 March) with a possible extension. Train services, rail services, and all other types of non-essential passenger transport are also suspended.
The World Health Organization office of India has been preparing for the arrival of the virus in advance by increased disease surveillance, risk communication, training on preventing infection, and monitoring and tracking of travellers. The efforts are having an effect but putting in even more energy and resources in this battle can be decisive for the outcome.
All affected districts of the country will allow only essential services to operate – hospitals, pharmacies, and provision shops. Measures are taken to increase social distancing and spreading awareness about the dangers of the disease everywhere. Hopefully, a large-scale crisis can be avoided with the collective effort of government regulations and participation of the public.
India is a hugely populous country. The future of this pandemic will be determined by what happens to densely-populated countries. It’s important that India takes aggressive action at the public health level, and at the level of society to control, and suppress this disease
– Mike Ryan, World Health Organization
Underestimating the situation and not applying counter-measures on time has resulted in a growing pain for Europe and The US. The COVID-19 needs to be approached one step ahead of time – focusing on prevention instead of fighting the phenomenon when it has already arrived can be way the way to save economies from a fatal collapse and ensure the safety of millions of people.
Luckily, the African continent is not making the same mistake. Prevention of the outbreak is the highest priority right now. And for a reason, if the effects of the crisis are not minimized the damage can have destructive consequence.
Let’s hope the quick and early action of the countries allows them to avoid the situation Europe and the US have to deal with now. And let’s acknowledge and appreciate the forward-thinking and responsible action the leaders of those countries practised – just another proof that labelling them as “underdeveloped” is an unjustified generalization and underestimation of power and potential.
A widespread pandemic in Africa could cripple the continent’s fragile health-care systems and be devastating economically. It also could be difficult to contain while foreign donor nations that traditionally assist the continent in such crises are overwhelmed with their own outbreaks.
– World Health Organization
Follow the COVID-19 situation in African countries via the World Health Organization dedicated page.
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