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IGWE: COVID19 pandemic in Africa

Leo IGWE OPINION Confronting Human Extinction and Post-Human Approaches to COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa.
A pandemic that has threatened to extinct humanity provides an ample opportunity to envision possible futures and explore post-human permutations. This is because, amidst the gloom and despair, fears, and anxieties over human survival, it is compelling that humans re-imagine and re-conceive the human. Speculations about the future must engage and move beyond human vulnerabilities and imperfections holding out some hope and optimism about the future and humanity.

A post-human take on the coronavirus pandemic is quite pertinent especially for the African continent, a region that has been predicted would be most affected by COVID-19. Although the surge in the infection rate that many predicated has not materialized, the region is no less vulnerable to epidemics and pandemics that could threaten human existence and survival in the region. Thus any speculation about redesigning or technologically augmenting the human is both cogent and promising and laden with opportunities and possibilities worthy of a reflection.

Pandemic Rattles Africa

The outbreak of COVID-19 caused so much panic and anxiety across Africa and the world. Drastic and unprecedented measures have been put in place to contain the spread of the virus- social distancing, a ban on international and domestic flights, and prohibition of public gathering in parks, churches, and schools. The pandemic has posed a serious challenge to African politics, economies, and health care sectors. According to the WHO, the first reported case of COVID-19 in Africa was on February 14 and since then 52 countries have reported cases. African countries still lag behind the rest of the world in testing and monitoring of the disease. In my country Nigeria, the number of confirmed cases has continued to rise. Very few tests have been conducted due to the limited number of testing equipment and personnel in the country. Like the Ebola virus, COVID 19 has revealed the fragile and weak health care capacities in African countries especially the technological deficit in the management of diseases. The UN Economic Commission on Africa has projected that between 300 thousand and 3 million Africans will lose their lives as a result of COVID-19. However, it noted that this projected impact could be affected by the intervention measures from the various countries.

These grim prospects for the region are predicated on so many factors including overcrowding and poorly serviced slum dwellings in urban areas, limited access to hand-washing facilities, informal workforce, undernourishment, underlying health conditions such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, and extreme poverty. Besides, there is a challenge posed by snake oil sellers who take advantage of people. Lack of a cure for the disease has provided an opportunity for quacks and other con artists to peddle fake therapies for the coronavirus, at very exorbitant prices. In Ghana and Nigeria, there have been reports of traditional healers, operators of herbal clinics, and pastors market spurious remedies and questionable cures for COVID-19.

As earlier noted, COVID-19 poses a serious challenge to African countries in the area of testing for the virus. As of June 29 Nigeria, a country of over 200 million persons has carried out a little over 130 000 tests. Let us assume that Nigeria can carry out a million tests at the end of the year, how long will it take to test half of the population of the country? The same situation applies to Zambia. Zambia reported its first two cases of COVID-19 in March. In May, this country of about 17 million people has conducted only 20,000 tests. Whilst in Kenya, the number of tests was 45,000 and 537,713 tests were required to cover one percent of the population.

As Belinda Herring has noted there is a lack of necessary infrastructure to tackle COVID-19. African countries lack the equipment and trained human resources, and also the reagents that are needed to do the tests.

To carry out these tests, African countries depend on other countries to send or sell the resources to them. They rely on the WHO to make available the testing materials, training as well as tracking facilities. Even with the existing support from other countries and the WHO, African countries need a technological leap to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Various technologies need to converge and combine in ways that could signal hope, enhance the health care capacity, and accelerate testing as well as treatment processes.

As it stands, the COVID-19 management status quo in African countries is anything but smart and capable of getting countries to defeat the pandemic. Some countries have trained human resources but there aren’t enough testing kits. They may possess testing kits but lack enough personnel to use them. Some countries have laboratories for the tests but not enough reagents or protective devices for the scientists and health workers.

Thus the effective management of COVID-19 is predicated on revamping the health infrastructure in African countries and making available cutting edge health technologies for testing, monitoring, and treatment of the disease. For instance, in Nigeria, the technology for testing and management of COVID-19 should be available and accessible to the country’s 200 million people, not just less than a million at currently the case. So with the current infrastructure, it is evident that African countries are incapable of meeting the targets of combating and containing COVID-19 and other life and human threatening epidemics and pandemics.

African countries need to transition into more technology-mediated societies that can harness scientific and technological innovations, emerging technologies including robotics, nanotechnology, gene therapy, stem cell therapy, and artificial intelligence in combating the disease. To rattle the COVID-19 management status quo in the region, a convergence of technologies and blurring of the line between is required to scale up efficient and effective management of the pandemic.

Namibia opens arms to tourists

Namibia has further eased restrictions for international tourists to try to prevent the complete collapse of a sector severely damaged by the coronavirus pandemic after the country closed its borders in March, following the pandemic announcement of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Tourism Ministry said on September 8 that that foriegn tourists could go to their pre-booked destinations and take part in activities for up to five days, after which they will be tested for the virus.

If they stay at their pre-booked destination for less than five days they can proceed to another destination without a test.

According to the rules introduced in July, tourists had to quarantine at their first destination for seven days, which resulted in a large number of cancellations, detrimental for the hotel owners.

The tourism sector in Namibia has not seen any new bookings since the beginning of the month, leading to 115.7 million Namibian dollars ($6.85 million) in cancellations, the ministry estimates.

“This has necessitated a rethink in our approach. The tourism sector is highly competitive and Namibia is competing to attract tourists with countries from all over the world,” Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta said.

Botswana dimond trade plunges

Botswana’s rough diamond exports plunged 68% in the second quarter of the year, data published by the central bank showed on August 7, as the COVID-19 pandemic affected demand, and trade.

In a bid to curb the spread of the virus, Botswana closed its borders in March following the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations, preventing the international buyers from travelling to centres such as Mumbai, Antwerp and China who traditionally arrive to Gaborone ten times a year to buy diamonds.

Exports of diamonds from Debswana, a joint venture between Botswana and diamond mining giant De Beers, a unit of Anglo American, stood at $293 million in the second quarter of 2020, from $916 million in the preceding period.

Namibia: no alcohol consumption in bars

Namibia has 2,129 confirmed cases and 10 deaths with the country’s rate of daily new cases now the fourth highest on the continent following South Africa, Eswatini and Gabon, according to President Hage Geingob announcement.
Subsequenly he imposed limits on public gatherings, deacreasing to 100 from 250 amid surging cases, the President announced.

People will also not be allowed to consume alcohol at bars and taverns. They will only be permitted to drink beverges at home.

Geingob relaxed rules for international tourists, who will no longer be subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine on arrival but will be required to present a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test conducted 72 hours before arrival.

They will, however, be required to remain at their initial destination in the country for seven days. A test will be conducted during this period and tourists can proceed with their holiday if the result is negative.

In a televised speech on Friday July 31, Geingob said there is also a decision to suspend schools from August 4 for 28 days came after considering the risks associated with the spread of the virus.

The measures also affect early childhood development, pre-primary, primary and the first two grades of high school, while Namibian schools will be suspended for the second time in four months next week.

Namibia has 2,129 confirmed cases and 10 deaths with the country’s rate of daily new cases now the fourth highest on the continent following South Africa, Eswatini and Gabon, according to Geingob.

#COVID19: Algeria exclused from EU safe travel list

The European Union is set to exclude Algeria from its safe list of countries from which the bloc allows non-essential travel after a meeting of EU ambassadors on July 29, Reuters news agency reports, refering to the European diplomatic sources.

The list of countries will fall to 11, assuming the provisional decision is confirmed in writing by EU members, two EU diplomats familiar with the discussions said. The deadline for submissions was likely to be on July 30 afternoon.

The safe countries deemed to have COVID-19 largely under control are Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Tunisia and Uruguay.

China has also been provisionally approved, although travel would only open up if Chinese authorities also allowed in EU visitors.

EU €24M aid to Uganda

The EU will provide €24 million in humanitarian assistance for the most vulnerable people in Uganda in 2020, with a special focus on refugees and their host communities. In addition, the EU has also channelled €1 million to aid organisations in Uganda to support the coronavirus preparedness and control measures, in line with the national response plan to the pandemic.

“EU humanitarian support in Uganda is making a difference to the lives of many refugees who have fled South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. EU aid will provide food and health assistance, access to water and sanitation, as well as education programmes. We remain committed to continuing our support in Uganda, all the more so in these challenging times” said Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič.

EU-funded humanitarian projects in Uganda are also adapting to the new challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. For example, EU funded radio talk shows are raising awareness about the coronavirus and other key issues, such as child protection. Other humanitarian projects provide access to health care and in epidemics control and prevention. EU support has also helped more than 20,000 children benefit from education programmes.

EU humanitarian support in Uganda goes hand in hand with longer-term development strategies to find durable solutions and support the self-reliance of refugees and their inclusion in social protection schemes.

Uganda hosts 1.4 million refugees, one of the largest refugee populations in Africa. The country applies a progressive refugee policy, which is, however, under increasing pressure due to the scale of the crisis, and overstretched services. EU humanitarian funding is helping to address the immediate life-saving needs of refugees and host communities in line with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework as implemented in Uganda.

COVID19: Urpilainen announces €55M Kenya aid

“Team Europe stands by Kenya during Covid-19 with €55m package of support. €25m to ensure #SafeTrade at borders and to support #SMEs with affordable loans to stay afloat, €30M in budget support to #GoK to create space for priority public expenditure in response to pandemic” EU Commisisoner Jutta Urpilainen announced.

Kenyan relevant authorities announced 134 new positive cases on June 5, and 2,474 total confirmed cases, 51 new recoveries, 643 Total discharged and recovered, total 79 fatalities.

Botswana repatriates citizens

Botswana will undertake efforts to repatriate citizens stranded abroad due to coronavirus travel bans, with more than 100 travellers to arrive on June 3 from Ethiopia, President Mokgweetsi Masisi said on Saturday, May 30.

In order to alleviate the plight of our citizens abroad who have been adversely impacted by the pandemic, mostly students and those affected by the global travel bans, we have decided to assist them with financial assistance to either cope where they are or to return them home,” Masisi said in a speech, transmitted by TV channels.

Masisi said the government has already helped 400 people to return from South Africa and neighbouring countries.

Botswana medics have established 35 coronavirus cases, one of patients died.

However in spite of the relatively low contamination cases rate the economy has been severely hit, with real gross domestic product forecast to contract by 13% in 2020.

Botswana ended a 48-day lockdown a week ago, allowing businesses and schools to reopen under strict conditions but its borders are still closed with only returning citizens and essential goods allowed in.

At present the toursitic industry operators reamin trapped between clients requesting their money back, and accommodation in safari lodges reluctant to return deposits. This has caused serious cash flow problems.

The proposal of a voucher or credit for the future trips do not convene many clients,
explainging they found themselves in a financially fragile situaiton, and they are not sure they will be able to afford the luxury trip to Botswana natural resorts in the future.

As a result the Botswana communities has been suffering a serious economic set back caused by absence of toursits, who were the major consumers of local services of guides, drivers, restaurants, traditional crafts, and souvenirs, and other endeavours related to the touristic industry infrastructure.

Africa’s tourism industry in general has been hard hit by coronavirus lockdowns. Overnight, hotel bookings were canceled, safaris postponed and cultural tours abandoned. The operators are struggling to stay afloat in hope the tourists will come back soon.

EU additional €50M aid across world

Today the European Commission announced an additional €50 million in humanitarian aid to help respond to the dramatic increase in humanitarian needs caused by the Coronavirus pandemic globally. The new funding follows increased appeals by humanitarian organisations, including the UN Global Appeal.

The new funding will help vulnerable people facing major humanitarian crises, notably in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Central African Republic, the Great Lakes region in Africa, Eastern Africa, Syria, Yemen, Palestine and Venezuela, as well as the Rohingya. It will provide access to health services, protective equipment, water and sanitation. It will be channelled through non-governmental organisations, international organisations, United Nations agencies, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“The Coronavirus pandemic is creating a humanitarian crisis of an enormous scale in some of the most fragile countries in the world. The pandemic threatens food security in countries where public health systems were already weak before this new crisis. We must act now to leave no area of the world unprotected. This is in our common interest. And it is crucial that humanitarian actors continue to have the access to carry out their life-saving work,” Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management, said.

The €50 million allocation comes in addition to significant humanitarian funding and actions already provided by the European Commission to respond to the most pressing needs created by the Coronavirus pandemic:

In February 2020, €30 million was allocated to the World Health Organization. Since then, the Commission has, subject to the agreement of the EU budgetary authorities,planned around €76 million to programmes included in the United Nations Global Humanitarian Response Plan. In addition, the Commission is providing direct funding for the work of humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, which are in the frontline of the humanitarian response to Coronavirus.

Previously, on 8 May, the Commission also announced the establishment of an EU Humanitarian Air Bridge to transport humanitarian workers and emergency supplies for the Coronavirus response to some of the most critically affected areas around the world. The first flight on 8 May, operated in cooperation with France, transported around 60 humanitarian workers from various NGOs and UN agencies and 13 tonnes of humanitarian cargo to Bangui in the Central African Republic. Two subsequent humanitarian cargo flights to Central African Republic will transport a further 27 tonnes of humanitarian supplies in total.

On 15 May, on the second destination of the EU humanitarian air bridge 20 tons of supplies and humanitarian and health workers were flown to the West-African country of São Tomé and Principe. The flight was set-up in cooperation with the Portuguese government and several humanitarian partner organisations. On their return leg, the flight also brought back over 200 EU citizens and other passengers to Lisbon in a repatriation effort.

The additional humanitarian funding comes on top of some €20 billion in development and emergency funding from the Commission and Member States for both short-term and long-term needs around the world as part of a “Team Europe” approach.

COVID19: EU aid to Central African Republic

Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management, is travelling today to Bangui on the first flight and will meet H.E. Faustin-Archange Touadéra, President of the Central African Republic, as well as humanitarian organisations.

The European Commission has set up an EU Humanitarian Air Bridge to transport humanitarian workers and emergency supplies for the coronavirus response to some of most critical areas around the world.

Leaving any area of the world unprotected today leaves us all unprotected tomorrow. As part of our global response, the EU will open a dedicated Humanitarian Air Bridge to get aid into areas which lack supplies due to the difficulties of global transit. This can be a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable communities worldwide” Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said.

The first EU flight, operated in cooperation with France, is departing from Lyon airport and will transport around 60 humanitarian workers from various NGOs and 13 tonnes of humanitarian cargo. Two subsequent humanitarian cargo flights will follow in the coming days to transport a further 27 tonnes of humanitarian supplies in total. On their return leg, the Air Bridge flights will also bring back EU citizens and other passengers from the Central African Republic in a repatriation effort.

More EU humanitarian flights are being scheduled for the coming weeks, prioritising African countries where the pandemic has the potential to worsen many existing humanitarian crises.

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