The West and Central Africa region has seen a 28% percent increase in new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last week going from 25,335 contaminations on 12 May to a total of 32,401 on 19 May 2020.
States continues to adjust their response strategies to socioeconomic realities with a gradual relaxing or complete lifting of movement restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the virus.
In a region grappling with armed conflict, pervasive poverty and a food insecurity, it is crucial that the focus on Covid-19 does not cause these pre-existing crises to be neglected.
Continuous increase of confirmed cases. Since the first case of COVID-19 was declared in Nigeria on 28 February 2020, the pandemic has progressed steadily throughout West and Central Africa where it has killed 762 people. As of 19 May 2020, WHO statistics show 32,401 confirmed cases in the 21 countries covered by the Regional Bureau for West and Central Africa with 19,842 still active and 11,797 recoveries. In terms of active cases, Nigeria (4,475) has the highest number, followed by Ghana (4,292), Cameroon (1,822) and Senegal (1,454).
Preventive measures and restrictions on movement. Governments have adopted sweeping measures to curb the spread of the virus including closing borders, imposing travel bans, prohibiting mass gatherings, shutting down schools, and closing markets. To mitigate the socio-economic impact of these measures, some countries are now relaxing or lifting some of the restrictions. In Benin, the airport is still open, but all arrivals are being systematically tested while passports are held for 48 hours until the results are available. At local level, authorities are preparing to lift sanitary measures and resume classes at school. In Burkina Faso the start of the classes with exams this year has been postponed to 1 June, while the reopening of all other classes initially planned on 25 May is postponed until further notice. In Cameroon have detained several hundred people for not wearing face masks in public, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. In Cote d’Ivoire, the almost two-month curfew in the main city Abidjan has been lifted but nightclubs, cinemas and bars will remain closed to fight the coronavirus epidemic. In Niger, the Government is starting to loosen some preventive COVID-19 measures. The lockdown on the city of Niamey was lifted and the reopening of mosques were authorized on the condition that certain preventive measures were followed including respecting social distancing and the use of mouth masks and hydroalcoholic gel. In Nigeria, where the number of confirmed cases rose to over 6,000, although a gradual easing of lockdown in some cities was initiated since 4 May.
The Government of Borno State has lifted the lockdown on 13 May but the total ban on movement in place in Kano (Nigeria’s second-biggest city where several unexplained deaths are being investigated) was extended for another two weeks. In Senegal, as of 12 May, the curfew hours were shortened from 21:00PM to 05:00AM, places of worship reopened, and markets and shops forced to open only a few days a week are now to close only for one day for disinfection. Restrictions concerning the public transport have also been eased and schools are scheduled to resume on 2 June for approximately 551,000 students in exam classes.
Specific protection risks and challenges for forcibly displaced populations. Refugees and IDPs are often residing in overcrowded and precarious conditions rendering impossible social distancing or basic preventive measures such as hand washing which exposes them to heightened risks of contamination as COVID-19 cases. Although only two cases of infection were reported among UNHCR’s persons of concern in Cameroon in Nigeria so far, forcibly displaced populations are also at heightened risk of stigmatization in situations of pandemic. In addition to these specific challenges, forcible displaced populations are also facing the risk of food insecurity in the region, particularly in the Sahel. There are also great concerns regarding genderbased violence which is on the rise since the beginning of the COVID crisis as a direct result of the preventive measures enforced and the economic strain these restrictions have put on many households. The significant disruption in the livelihoods of many forcibly displaced population is also increasing the risk of resorting to negative coping mechanisms, including child labour which UNHCR is monitoring closely.