Since UNHCR’s COVID-19 response began in Southern Africa in March 2020
2.7 million people reached through COVID-19 awareness-raising campaigns
466,252 people receiving additional soap to promote handwashing
24 isolation and 20 quarantine facilities established and supported
7,381,485 people of concern to UNHCR in Southern Africa, including
730,311 refugees and 311,968 asylum-seekers
6,196,561 internally displaced persons (IDPs)
36,645 other people of concern
(as of 31 January 2021)
The COVID-19 situation in the Southern Africa region intensified in January 2021, with spikes in the number of cases in several countries and governments confirming resurgences – or “second waves” – of the virus. As of 2 February 2021, there were 1,766,087 reported cases of COVID-19 in the 16 countries covered by UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Southern Africa, representing an increase of 471,992 confirmed cases over a one-month period. While South Africa continued to have by far the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases in the region, the resurgence has also resulted in upward trends in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Malawi and Zambia. Notably, in Namibia, the number of COVID-19 cases doubled from December to January. As a result of this upward trend, restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 continued to be tightened, with measures varying from country to country, and including longer curfews, bans or restrictions on public gatherings, restrictions on the sale of alcohol, closure of schools and restaurants, travel restrictions and closure of land borders for all but essential travel.
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 taking steps towards acquiring COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX, the African Union, and direct acquisition from manufacturers. UNHCR Representations across the region have actively engaged with government ministries to ensure that people of concern are included in national vaccine plans, and in some cases are part of government task forces and working groups developing vaccine roll-out plans and strategies. While most vaccine rollouts are still in the planning stages, response from governments has so far been positive. To date, no country has expressly excluded people of concern, and some have included consideration for people of concern as vulnerable groups under the national plans.
UNHCR and partners continue to follow a “stay and deliver” approach, maintaining protection services and other forms of life-saving assistance. 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 on risk communication and outreach efforts to spread information about COVID-19 prevention and services. Health systems strengthening has been a priority, equipping health centres, training health workers, and establishing isolation and quarantine centres. Additional handwashing facilities have been installed and additional soap continues to be 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.