COVID-19: The first six months
Since the COVID-19 pandemic gained a foothold in Southern Africa in March 2020, there have been 767,314 reported confirmed cases of the virus across the 16 countries covered by UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Southern Africa (as of 28 September 2020). To limit the spread of the virus, Governments in the region have implemented precautionary measures including lockdowns, movement restrictions, social distancing and hygiene practices, as well as closure of borders, schools and shops. From the outset, UNHCR has focused its COVID-19 response in communities hosting people of concern – refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced people (IDPs) and stateless people. UNHCR has worked to ensure people of concern are included in national preparedness and response plans, stepped up support to Governments and host communities to reinforce their response to the crisis, and worked alongside the World Health Organization, other United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to respond to the needs of people of concern and their host communities during the COVID19 pandemic.
Throughout the first six months of the COVID-19 response, UNHCR and partners in Southern Africa 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 such as screening, handwashing and wearing masks, with strict protocols in place at registration and distribution points. In many countries, UNHCR’s registration and identity management tools were adapted to allow for remote registration and case management as well as the touchless verification of identity using biometric tools at assistance and distribution points. Hotlines and community protection structures have been utilized to report protection issues and assistance needs and provide referrals for assistance – including for gender-based violence (GBV). UNHCR has focused heavily on risk communication and involved the community to enhance outreach to spread information about COVID-19 prevention and services. Health systems strengthening has been a priority, equipping health centres and training health workers, and establishing isolation and quarantine centres to reduce the risk of transmission, particularly in camps and transit centres. Additional handwashing facilities have been installed in public spaces frequented by people of concern, and additional soap has been 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 home-based learning to continue with their studies.