Johannesburg/Nairobi – African nations on Wednesday announced stringent measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak, as infection numbers increased across the continent.
The small southern country of Lesotho announced it will lock down the nation for 21 days starting on Saturday, while neighbouring South Africa was preparing for a three-week lockdown from midnight (2200 GMT) on Thursday.
Only essential services, including health, security, supermarkets and banks would remain open, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane told journalists, even though Lesotho, which is completely surrounded by South Africa, has not yet confirmed a Covid-19 infection.
Kenya, meanwhile, announced a daily curfew between 7 pm (1600 GMT) and 5 am (0200 GMT), effective from Friday.
Only authorized professionals were allowed to move outside during those hours, President Uhuru Kenyatta said during a televised address to the nation. The East African country has 28 confirmed cases.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni suspended all public means of transport with immediate effect for the next two weeks in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
Private cars will only be allowed to carry a maximum of three people at a time, including the driver, Museveni announced on national television.
South Africa on Wednesday remained the country with the highest number of infections in Africa, with 709 cases of Covid-19, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.
“We are expecting that there’s still going to be quite an increase in the number of cases and we also expect that a lot of work has to be done by South Africans to contain this infection,” Mkhize said in an interview with national broadcaster SABC.
The numbers in South Africa have risen rapidly since March 5, when the country announced its first confirmed case of the coronavirus, which can lead to the deadly respiratory disease Covid-19. But the country has not reported any deaths.
Throughout Africa, there have been more than 2,000 cases and more than 50 deaths, according to the World Health Organization and individual country reports.
Two more patients have died in Ghana, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday, with the West African country reporting an increase of 15 coronavirus cases, to reach a total of 68.
Libya’s UN-backed government late on Tuesday reported the first infection in the war-torn North African country, involving a 73-year-old man who crossed into Libya from neighbouring Tunisia after making a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
The West African country of Mali also reported its first two Covid-19 cases on Wednesday – two Malian nationals who returned from France in mid-March, government spokesman Yaya Sangare said in a statement.
There are concerns that weak national health systems in Africa will be quickly overwhelmed by the pandemic.
In Zimbabwe, which neighbours South Africa, doctors and nurses went on strike on Wednesday, citing the lack of protective clothing in dealing with suspected cases as the main reason for their action.
Zimbabwe has recorded three coronavirus cases and one death. The ailing country’s lack of preparedness has been exposed by the family of the deceased, prominent broadcaster Zororo Makamba. The hospital where he was admitted had no running water and the family says it was told to bring its own ventilator and power socket.
Many other African countries have instituted measures to slow the spread of the virus.
Ethiopia, which has 12 confirmed cases, will release more than 4,000 prisoners, the state broadcaster EBC on Wednesday quoted Attorney General Adanech Abebe as saying.
Reducing the number of inmates should stop the disease from spreading within cramped prison quarters.