Africa remains the least affected continent by the coronavirus outbreak but it is spreading to more countries. To slow things down, more governments across the continent are taking the unprecedented steps of imposing travel restrictions on travelers from the worst affected countries—most of which are in Europe and Asia.
In South Africa, amid rapidly rising rates of confirmed cases as well as evidence of transmission within the country, president Cyril Ramaphosa has canceled incoming flights from the worst affected countries including South Korea, Italy, Spain, the US and UK. South Africa has also closed more than half of the country’s land border posts as part of Ramaphosa’s “extraordinary response” plan.
Similarly, Kenya and Ghana have also issued bans on entry of foreign travelers from the worst affected countries. Kenyan and Ghanaian nationals coming from the affected countries will also face a period of mandatory quarantine. Burundi and Gabon have also instituted similar measures.
In Morocco, all international flights in and out of the country have been suspended while land borders with Spanish territories on Morocco’s coast have also been closed. The measures follow Uganda’s last week when it issued broad travel restrictions on 16 countries including the US and UK, specifying that travelers from the affected countries (including Ugandans) will be only be let into the country on the condition that they self-quarantine at their own cost.
Some observers have noted the irony of African countries banning entry of Europeans and Americans given the typically steep visa entry requirements those countries demand of African visitors and migrants particularly over the last two decades. The United States and United Kingdom, for example, have increased visa fees and issued various forms of new restrictions for African visitors.
While not yet imposing travel or flight bans, Mali, Mauritania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also imposed quarantine measures specifically on travelers from Europe and countries worst affected by the outbreak. While close travel and trade links with China had initially suggested the Eastern giant would be the likely source of imported cases, a significant number of index cases on the continent have been travelers from Europe or the United States.
The travel restrictions comes at a significant cost to some of Africa’s struggling economies particularly for those which tourism revenues are crucial. For instance, South Africa, which fell into its second recession in two years, relies on its tourism industry for 9.2% of jobs in the country and 8.2% of gross domestic product. Africa’s most advanced economy receives around 10 million visitors a year from across the world, with a significant share of that number from Europe.
In addition to travel restrictions to stem entry of possibly infected people, governments on the continent are also stepping up social distancing measures. In Kenya, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia, schools and tertiary institutions have been ordered to close. In South Africa, gatherings of more than 100 people have been banned and schools are expected to be shut down this week. In addition to the closure of schools, public gatherings and sports have been banned in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.
The stringent measures are a reaction to the growing rate of confirmed Covid-19 cases diagnosed on the continent despite a range of proactive measures put in place. Nearly 300 cases have now been diagnosed on the continent, up from 12 cases on Mar. 5.
Since the first coronavirus death in Africa was confirmed in Egypt on Mar. 9, seven more fatalities have been recorded on the continent, as of press time. Countries including South Africa, Egypt and Algeria have seen a swift rise in confirmed cases, raising fears about the virus spreading much quicker than health officials can track and test possible cases.
Despite being fortified with lessons and technical know-how from viral outbreaks like Ebola in West and Central Africa, the fallout from a full-blown outbreak across the continent, as seen in Italy or South Korea, is a terrifying prospect in many Sub-Saharan African countries with undermanned and under-equipped health services.