Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Picture: REUTERS / TIKSA NEGERI
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Picture: REUTERS / TIKSA NEGERI

Dakar —  African nations have ordered curfews and lockdowns in response to the growing coronavirus epidemic, raising fears of turmoil for low-income workers and cash-strapped governments across the continent.

Cases have risen across the world's poorest continent over the past week to a total of 2,225 according to an AFP tally, prompting countries to enact strict counter measures. About 60 people have died to date.

SA, the continent's most developed economy —  which at 554 cases has Africa's largest outbreak — on Monday announced a nationwide lockdown.

“Without decisive action, the number of people infected will rapidly increase ... to hundreds of thousands,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

Other countries are following suit with similar measures. More are expected to be announced in the coming days.

Namibia imposed a partial lockdown on the capital, Windhoek, to try to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Bloomberg reported. The southern African country reported its sixth confirmed case of infection and first local transmission of the virus on Tuesday.

Botswana has ordered 14-day quarantines for all arrivals to the country.  

 The Democratic Republic of Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi on Tuesday declared a state of emergency and ordered the capital Kinshasa be isolated from the rest of the country to avoid the spread of coronavirus. The new measures include a ban on all travel from Kinshasa to the provinces and from the provinces to Kinshasa to allow for the confinement of the capital.  Lubumbashi was locked down a day earlier. 

On Monday, Senegal and Ivory Coast both declared states of emergency and ordered curfews.

Ivory Coast will also lock areas down progressively, the government said, depending on how the virus spreads.

Senegal has recorded 86 coronavirus cases to date, its health ministry said on Tuesday. Ivory Coast has 25 known coronavirus cases.

In a sign of coronavirus' increasing reach, Ivory Coast's Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly said on Twitter on Tuesday that he was in a self-isolation after coming into contact with a positive case.

Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer, has announced a one-month lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus, banning all international flights and shutting land borders.

As the virus spreads, there are fears that poor and debt-saddled countries will unable to provide an adequate response.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday asked G20 leaders for $150bn in emergency funding to deal with coronavirus, saying that it “poses an existential threat” to the economies of African countries.

He added that creditors should partly write off national debt for low-income countries.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France's parliament on Tuesday that there would be a European financial aid package for poor countries fighting the virus. “I'm thinking in particular about Africa,” he said.

Adopting lockdowns and social distancing measures in poor African nations is generating economic worries at the local level too.

Homes are often overcrowded, and precarious workers in the informal economy cannot self-isolate at home without abandoning their livelihoods.

Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) regional director for Africa, admitted these difficulties in a briefing with reporters last week.

She said such measures were “quite a challenge” and that the WHO is working on other approaches such as making hand sanitisers more widely available.

Locals are increasingly concerned as containment measures bite.

“They're closing down the stalls, the restaurants, but how are we supposed to feed our families?” asked Nemy Fery, who runs a street-food stall in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's main city.

In the north of the continent, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli on Tuesday also announced a two-week overnight curfew.

And in the east, cases have doubled in Rwanda, to 36, while South Sudan has closed its air and land borders, except for food and fuel supplies.

Rising cases

The archipelago nation of Cape Verde announced its first coronavirus fatality in a 62-year-old British tourist on Tuesday, according to health minister Arlindo do Rosario.

Cameroon also recorded its first death — a man who had contracted the disease in Italy and tested positive on March 14, according to health minister Manachi Manaouda.

Four people have also died in Burkina Faso, which is West Africa's worst-hit country with 115 confirmed cases.

Countries that have announced strict containment measures are turning towards the army to enforce them.

Military patrols in Senegal will ensure people are respecting the dusk-to-dawn curfew, for example.

Ramaphosa has also said the army will help enforce SA’s lockdown.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Nigeria’s central bank held its benchmark interest rate on Tuesday, going against the global trend of slashing borrowing costs to ease the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 10 members of the monetary policy committee who attended the meeting unanimously voted to keep the rate at 13.5%, governor Godwin Emefiele said.

Last week Emefiele announced about 3.5-trillion naira ($9.2bn) in measures to help the economy. Nigeria has 40 known cases of Covid-40.