States of emergency in Ethiopia, Liberia

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Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, and Liberia declared states of emergency on Wednesday to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, a day after cases on the continent passed the 10 000 mark.

African governments announced lockdowns or curfews in response to the virus, which was slow to reach the continent but now growing exponentially, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As of Wednesday, Africa more than 10 900 confirmed infections and 550 deaths from the novel coronavirus, according to a Reuters tally based on government statements and WHO data.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office announced the emergency declaration on Twitter. Ethiopia recorded 52 cases of coronavirus and two deaths.

Authorities in the country of more than 110 million people have taken measures to stem the spread including closing schools, banning public gatherings and requiring most employees to work from home.

The prime minister did not mention additional steps to be taken under the state of emergency.

In the West African country Liberia, President George Weah issued a 14-day stay-at-home order starting Saturday for residents of four counties, including the one encompassing Monrovia, a city of more than a million.

Travel between Liberia’s 15 counties will be prohibited in most cases, Weah said.

The measures will test Liberian health officials’ promises to avoid mistakes made during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, when quarantining Monrovia’s massive West Point slum sparked riots by residents lacking food and water.

Mosoka Fallah, acting director general of Liberia’s national public health institute, told Reuters authorities now appreciated the importance of consulting with communities and providing basic necessities during a lockdown.

In a statement marking Africa’s 10 000th case, the WHO warned the coronavirus could “unleash economic and social devastation” in Africa, where health systems and economies are fragile and urged governments to step up containment measures.

“This requires a decentralised response, tailored to the local context. Communities need to be empowered,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.