South Africa put its 57 million citizens into lockdown starting Thursday evening as cases there grew to 709 — the highest of any nation on that continent. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed police and the military to enforce the measure.
The West African nation of Senegal — which was among the countries hit by the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak — also declared a state of emergency earlier this week and imposed a curfew after more than 80 cases of the coronavirus were confirmed.
“The rapid evolution of COVID-19 in Africa is deeply worrisome,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization‘s regional director for Africa, said. “We can still change the course of this pandemic,” she added, but said that “governments must draw on all their resources and capabilities and strengthen their response.”
“The need of the hour as countries like India … and now parts of Africa enter a lockdown phase is to consider these kinds of scenarios and maybe build temporary quarantine facilities for those living in shantytowns,” said Dr. Priya Balasubramaniam, a senior public health scientist for the Public Health Foundation of India.
There is a silver lining to the emergency, Balasubramaniam added. How these countries ultimately cope with the pandemic could be a lesson to the rest of the world. Already, many low-income countries experiment using technology and community health workers to improve access to health care where there had been none.
“There is a lot of capacity for innovation in these countries,” she said.