As of 14 September 2020, there have been 737,443 reported confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the 16 countries covered by UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Southern Africa. While case numbers continue to increase, the rate has notably slowed as compared to recent weeks. South Africa still has the highest number of cases on the continent, and accounts for 88 per cent of cases in Southern Africa. Governments in some countries across the region continue to ease restrictions that were put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, including lifting lockdowns and movement restrictions, and reopening schools, shops, and other businesses. In most cases, basic prevention measures, such as mask wearing, screening and hand sanitizing in public spaces remain in place.
Throughout the pandemic, UNHCR and partners have committed to a ‘stay and deliver’ approach, continuing to provide critical protection services and 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, hotlines and community protection structures are utilized to report protection issues and assistance needs. UNHCR has focused heavily on risk communication and outreach efforts to spread information about COVID-19 prevention and services. Health systems strengthening has also been a priority, by equipping health centres and training health workers, and establishing isolation and quarantine centres to reduce the risk of transmission, particularly in camps. Additional handwashing facilities have been installed and additional soap has been distributed to promote good hygiene practices and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. 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.
At the same time, UNHCR continues working closely with Governments, the World Health Organization and other UN agencies and NGOs to promote and secure the inclusion of people of concern into preparedness and response measures for COVID-19. Given the serious impacts that COVID-19 regulations have had on livelihoods and economic opportunities, including for people of concern in social safety nets and other social assistance programmes – especially COVID-19 socioeconomic recovery programmes – is particularly critical.