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 with 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 African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government had “decided to enforce a nationwide lockdown for 21 days” from midnight tomorrow 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.
South African mines would be closed for the 21 days.
“Companies whose operations require continuous processes such as furnaces, underground mine operations will be required to make arrangements for care and maintenance to avoid damage to their continuous operations,” Ramaphosa said.
South Africa accounts for 75 percent of the world’s platinum and 38 percent of palladium supply, and also produces minerals from bullion and manganese to chrome and iron ore.
“This would be unprecedented in the history of mining in South Africa,” said Roger Baxter, the chief executive of the Minerals Council South Africa, the main industry group. “There were certain times when components of the industry were closed, for example during the Second World War, but this is unprecedented.”
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 yesterday.
“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 on Monday, calling the pandemic a “true world war.”
Ivory Coast ordered a similar curfew, as well as progressive confinements measures based on the geographic spread of the virus.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo on Monday locked down its second city, Lubumbashi, for 48 hours and deployed security forces after two people with COVID-19 arrived on Sunday on a flight from the capital, Kinshasa.
The nation has recorded 30 cases since March 10, with two deaths.
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 on Saturday barred all “non-essential” movement, while Gabon imposed a night curfew.
According to a toll compiled by Agence France-Presse, the number of known cases across the continent — including North Africa — stood at more than 1,600 on Monday, of which 50 have been fatal.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
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