Since UNHCR’s COVID-19 response began in Southern Africa in March 2020
2.7 million people reached with COVID-19 risk communication
466,088 people received additional soap to promote handwashing
1,234 health facility staff and 1,829 community health workers trained on COVID-19
8,527,325 people of concern to UNHCR in Southern Africa, including
767,357 refugees and 311,744 asylumseekers
6,196,561 internally displaced persons (IDPs)
1,190,506 IDP returnees and 24,530 refugee returnees
36,627 other people of concern
(as of 11 December 2020)
As of 31 December 2020, there have been more than 1,200,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in the 16 countries covered by UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Southern Africa, with a 40 per cent increase in active cases compared to the previous month. In some countries, authorities have confirmed a resurgence – or “second wave” – as daily case rates are on the rise. Notably, South Africa surpassed one million COVID-19 cases in December and numbers continue to grow rapidly while a new and more virulent variant of the virus has been identified in-country. Restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 were tightened over the festive period in countries such as Botswana, Eswatini, Republic of the Congo and South Africa, ranging from longer curfews and bans or restrictions on public gatherings, to travel restrictions and closure of land borders for all but essential travel. Many of the restrictions remain in place into January. UNHCR is closely monitoring these developments in cooperation with governments and health partners and is streamlining COVID-19 preparedness into 2021 planning.
UNHCR continues working closely with governments, the World Health Organization and other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to secure the inclusion of people of concern to UNHCR – refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and stateless persons – into preparedness and response measures for COVID-19. Given the impacts on livelihoods and economic opportunities, UNHCR advocates for people of concern to UNHCR to be included into social safety nets and other social assistance programmes for COVID-19. Importantly, countries in the region are now taking steps towards acquiring COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX, in some cases supplemented by direct acquisition from manufacturers. UNHCR is actively advocating with host governments to ensure people of concern to UNHCR are included into these national vaccine plans.
UNHCR and partners have continued to follow a “stay and deliver” approach, maintaining protection services and other forms of life-saving assistance for people of concern to UNHCR. Programmes have been adapted to observe social distancing and other COVID-19 mitigation measures, health protocols are in place at registration and distribution points, and hotlines and community protection structures are utilized to support case management. Since the beginning of the response to COVID-19 in March 2020, UNHCR has focused heavily on risk communication and outreach efforts to spread information about COVID-19 prevention and services. Health systems strengthening has been a priority, by equipping health centres and training health workers, and establishing isolation and quarantine centres. Additional handwashing facilities have been installed and additional soap has been distributed to promote good hygiene practices. UNHCR has also been providing cash assistance and core relief items (CRIs) to those worst impacted by lockdowns and other restrictions, while children and youth have been supported with virtual and distance learning to continue with their studies.