Kinshasa yesterday closed off its upmarket business district for two weeks and began large-scale disinfection in a bid to root out DR Congo’s main suspected source of coronavirus.
Access to Gombe, which houses the country’s main institutions, banks and foreign embassies as well as upscale homes, was barricaded off to everyone except local residents and key workers, an AFP journalist saw.
“The choice of this district is linked to the fact that it’s from Gombe that the virus is spreading little by little to other districts,” the health authorities said in a daily statement.
“Massive disinfection of the offices and main buildings in Gombe district has been scheduled during this period.
Once everything has been cleaned in Gombe, other areas will be targeted,” it said.
On Thursday, Kinshasa Governor Gentiny Ngobila announced that Gombe, one of the capital’s 26 districts, would be “placed in quarantine” from April 6-20.
The district “is considered to be the epicentre of the epidemic in the city,” he said.
According to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s official figures, the sprawling country has recorded 161 cases of coronavirus, 18 of them fatal.
Almost all have occurred in the capital, with a handful of other cases in the volatile east.
The central business district, home to 100,000-200,000 of Kinshasa’s 10mn people, has been dubbed “the Republic of Gombe” for its perceived status as an island of prosperity, a place set side from a city where poverty and dysfunction are rife.
People waited patiently to get through the barricades, clutching passes issued by city hall.
“I waited more than two hours, but I’m not complaining, because this disease is very deadly,” said Jerome Lumosi, 35, who works at the National Institute of Biomedical Research — the DRC’s scientific vanguard in the fight against coronavirus.
During the partial lockdown, teams in Kinshasa will “look for sick people but also investigate risk contacts and asymptomatic cases” for testing and treatment, the authorities said.
People who go to work in Gombe — drivers, gardeners and so on — will be tested in their home districts and will be quarantined if they have the virus.
The total of known coronavirus infections in Africa as a whole is nearly 9,300, of which 444 have been fatal, according to an AFP tally.
Experts say that, as elsewhere, the true number of infections is likely to be far higher — but Africa is especially vulnerable to the disease given its packed urban slums, poor sanitation and sub-standard health care.
Dozens of countries around Africa have imposed restrictions on mobility such as curfews, lockdowns, flight bans and school closures.
THREE-WEEK BAN ON MOVEMENT IN KENYA
Kenya yesterday imposed a three-week ban on movement in and out of the capital Nairobi, second city Mombasa and the coastal towns of Kilifi and Kwale.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, in a TV address to the nation, stopped short of a full lockdown in these areas but warned: “We must be ready to go even further if necessary.”
The African Union said nearly 20mn jobs could be threatened if the pandemic continues, and countries relying heavily on tourism and oil production stand to be hit especially hard.
It put forward a “realistic” scenario in which the pandemic lasts until July but Africa “is not very affected”, and a “pessimistic” scenario in which it lasts until August and Africa suffers more.
The first would cause the African economy to shrink by 0.8% and the second would cause it to shrink by 1.1% — both far cries from the 3.4% growth the African Development Bank projected for the continent before the pandemic hit.
The AU suggested that the African Union Commission “lead negotiations of an ambitious plan for the cancellation of total African external debt”, valued at $236bn.
RWANDA MINISTERS TO FOREGO MONTH’S PAY
Politicians and top civil servants in Rwanda will have their salaries this month redirected to welfare programmes to help the poor cope with the economic impact of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente said the salary sacrifice would show “solidarity” with the people, who have been under a tough lockdown and strict curbs on freedoms to contain the spread of the virus.
“The government of Rwanda has decided, over and above ongoing social protection initiatives, that all cabinet members, permanent secretaries, heads of public institutions and other senior officials shall forfeit one month’s salary (April),” he said in a statement Sunday. “Together, we shall rein in this epidemic.”
The government has been providing basic foodstuffs to around 20,000 of Kigali’s most vulnerable citizens but the need is great in a country of 12mn where one-third live in poverty.
It was not immediately clear how much Rwanda will collect through the forfeited monthly salaries of its top officials.
Rwanda imposed a strict shutdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak, closing all but the most essential shops, suspending public transport and banning all “unnecessary movements” outside the home on March 21.
Angola yesterday deployed a special police unit in armoured vehicles to patrol Luanda streets to enforce anti-coronavirus regulations as people continued to venture outside despite restrictions on movement.
President Joao Lourenco declared a state of emergency in the southwest African country last month to halt the spread of the deadly virus — banning travel, meetings and public activities with the aim of keeping people indoors.
But few have adhered to the new rules, prompting the government to reinforce patrols, rolling out its rapid intervention police force.
The special police unit, which is deployed in emergency situations, patrolled the seaside capital yesterday aboard black armoured vehicles.
“Security measures have been reinforced because the population has not conformed to the lockdown (implemented) under the state of emergency,” Luanda police spokesman Mateus Rodrigues said over national radio.
Angola has so far detected 14 cases of the novel coronavirus and recorded two deaths — a relatively low figure compared with other countries in the southern Africa region.
But governments across the continent have scrambled to shut their borders and restrict movement in a bid to prevent further spread. Despite the restrictions, many Angolans view earning money, finding food and fetching water as legitimate reasons to leave home.
“Police beat anyone who leaves the house without valid reason,” said Luanda resident Francisca Daniela. “I was hit yesterday,” she complained. “The only reason I am still leaving (the house) today is because I have to buy something for my children to eat.”
Police have arrested several hundred people for defying the restrictions since the state of emergency came into effect on March 27.
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