South Africa yesterday came under a nationwide military-patrolled lockdown, joining other African countries imposing strict curfews and shutdowns in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19 across the continent.
About 57 million people are to be restricted to their homes during South Africa’s three-week total lockdown, which began at midnight.
Kenya, Rwanda and Mali are some of the African countries that have imposed restrictions to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Although Africa’s toll is far lower than in Europe, the US and the Middle East, health experts say that the world’s poorest continent is especially vulnerable and the figures likely fall far short of reality.
In a camouflage uniform complete with a cap, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa saw off soldiers before they deployed from a military base in Soweto township outside Johannesburg.
“I send you out to go and defend our people against coronavirus,” Ramaphosa said. “This is unprecedented, not only in our democracy, but also in the history of our country, that we will have a lockdown for 21 days to go out and wage war against an invisible enemy coronavirus.”
During South Africa’s shutdown, there will be no jogging, dog-walking or sale of alcohol across the country, which so far has the highest number of detected infections in sub-Saharan Africa at 927, with Ramaphosa projecting it could reach 1,500 “within a few days.”
Nigeria’s government on Thursday warned that Africa’s most populous nation could soon see an “exponential” increase in infections unless contacts of confirmed cases are tracked down quicker.
Kenya, which had 31 cases, on Thursday recorded its first death — a 66-year-old Kenyan man who had traveled from South Africa on March 13.
The east African country began a night-time curfew yesterday to try to curtail the spread.
In the Sahel, Burkina Faso, which last week recorded sub-Saharan Africa’s first death, announced that eight towns, including the capital, Ouagadougou, would be “quarantined” from yesterday.
“Quarantined means that nobody will enter or leave the towns involved,” Burkinabe Minister of Communications Remis Fulgance Dandjinou said, adding that the measure would be applied for “two weeks.”
South African Minister of Defense Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula warned that “if people are not complying, they [the military] may be forced to take extraordinary measures.”
Violation of any of the regulations carries a six-month jail sentence or a fine.
Two men have already been charged with attempted murder for defying a quarantine order after they tested positive for COVID-19, exposing others to the infection.
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