A policeman distributes Covid-19 information flyers in Lagos, Nigeria, March 22 2020. Picture: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP
A policeman distributes Covid-19 information flyers in Lagos, Nigeria, March 22 2020. Picture: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

Lubumbashi — The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) imposed a two-day lockdown in part of its copper and cobalt heartland and a union official said a Glencore mine in a neighbouring province had repatriated some foreign workers in response to an expanding coronavirus outbreak.

Sandeep Mishra, a general manager at Chemaf, the Congo subsidiary of Dubai-based Shalina Resources, confirmed its mines in Haut-Katanga had been suspended for two days and said production would suffer as a result.

Ivanhoe and MMG, which also have concessions in Haut-Katanga, had no immediate comment. In neighbouring Lualaba province, Glencore's Kamoto Copper Company mine, a copper and cobalt project, repatriated 26 foreign workers on Monday in response to the outbreak, a union official told Reuters.

A Glencore spokesperson declined to comment.

The moves came as SA announced a 21-day national lockdown starting at midnight on Thursday to combat the spread of Covid-19.

 DRC's second-largest city, Lubumbashi, began its 48-hour lockdown as  three more African countries led by Nigeria announced coronavirus fatalities on Monday.

Security forces were deployed in the city of Lubumbashi after two people with Covid-19 arrived on Sunday on a scheduled flight from the capital Kinshasa, the authorities of Haut-Katanga province said.

“A 48-hour-long total confinement has been declared over all Haut-Katanga province as of Monday,” governor Jacques Kyabula said in a statement.

The measure “will enable the authorities to identify the other passengers aboard this plane for quarantining,” he said. The aircraft  was carrying 77 passengers, the authorities said.

The DRC has recorded 30 cases of coronavirus and two deaths since March 10.

Four legislators in Kinshasa on Monday urged President Felix Tshisekedi to place the sprawling capital “in quarantine and isolate it from the rest of the country.”

Rising cases

Africa has been slow to follow the terrifying rise in virus cases seen in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

However, many African countries have imposed travel restrictions, closed borders and schools, and appealed for social distancing.

Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer, announced a one-month lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus, banning all international flights and shutting land borders. Authorities are advising residents of the commercial hub, Lagos, and the capital, Abuja, to stay indoors and avoid any “non-essential outings”.

According to a toll compiled by AFP, the number of known cases across the continent stood at more than 1,600 on Monday, of which 50 have been fatal.

Lagos reported its first case on February 28, and the first death was reported in the Sahel state of Burkina Faso last Wednesday. It was then followed by fatalities in Gabon, the DRC and Mauritius.

On Monday, three more countries added to this list: Nigeria — the most populous country in Africa — as well as Gambia in western Africa, and Zimbabwe.

All three deaths were of individuals who had arrived after travelling abroad.

The Nigerian fatality was a 67-year-old man who had returned from medical treatment in Britain and had cancer and diabetes, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control said.

The death in Gambia was of an itinerant 70-year-old teacher from Bangladesh who had arrived in from neighbouring Senegal.

In Zimbabwe, the ministry of health reported the death of a 30-year-old man who had travelled to New York in February and returned home on March 9, transiting through Johannesburg in neighbouring SA.

“The system itself is overstretched and inadequate to deal with a coronavirus epidemic,” Zimbabwean doctor Norman Matara said last week.

He said there were only eight functioning intensive care and two isolation units in the whole of the  country.

 Peril for Africa

In West Africa, Senegal and Ivory Coast were expected to order lockdown measures later on Monday or Tuesday, while in Burkina Faso, a security source said the authorities “were thinking more and more about total confinement of the population for two or three weeks”.

Rwanda late on Saturday barred all “non-essential” movement, while the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius began a 14-day lockdown on Friday.

Health experts have sounded repeated warnings about Africa's vulnerability to coronavirus. Crowded informal settlements, poor sanitation and decrepit health infrastructure offer ideal opportunities for the disease.

But lockdowns too can have a catastrophic in countries where there is little or no social safety net to help people buy food or pay their bills.

“In reality, partial or total confinement could have disastrous effects for the African continent,” Cameroonian writer Calhixte Beyala said on her Facebook page.

AFP, Reuters