By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Governments around the world continue to adopt measures to deal with the new coronavirus pandemic. However, international attention has mostly been focused on the worst-hit countries, like China and Italy.
The attitude adopted regarding Africa was a perceived exclusion of the continent from the coronavirus. Now Egypt, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Senegal and South Africa dominate the list of affected African countries.
Thirty-six of the continent’s 54 countries now have confirmed cases. A total of roughly 800 people are infected by the Covid-19 virus. Chad and Niger confirmed their first cases only last week.
Health care provision concerns
Africa has an approximate population of 1.2 billion people. A sizeable percentage of that population lives below the poverty line and has poor access to healthcare.
Many sub-Saharan African countries do not have well-equipped isolation wards. Nor do they have properly qualified health-care workers to deal with Covid-19 patients.
Presently, forty-three countries have testing capabilities. That’s up from only two when the outbreak began. Many do not have enough ventilators to respond to the needs of the coronavirus patients.
Although Africa has relatively few coronavirus cases, it is necessary to contain its spread before fragile healthcare systems are overwhelmed.
What is being done?
With the number of infected people rising, many African countries are taking their cue from China and other countries. Precautionary measures now being implemented are aggressive.
Countries like Angola, Cameroon and Senegal have shut their sea, land and air borders. Rwanda has also suspended all international commercial flights for a month. Almost all the other countries have set in place strict screening protocols at points of entry. Visitors from high-risk countries are placed under compulsory quarantine.
There are also massive sensitization campaigns, bans on public gatherings, school closures and restriction of movement in public places.
The Church’s response
Church leaders recognize that churches are a potential place for the spread of coronavirus. Several Bishops’ Conferences across the continent have issued letters to the faithful asking for cooperation with the government as regards healthcare safety measures.
Many dioceses have suspended the public celebration of Mass, discouraged the use of holy water fonts and have postponed celebrations of weddings and social celebrations. The reception of Holy Communion is also restricted to the hands and the sign of peace is either suspended or done in a way that carries minimal infection risks.