DR Congo + 16 more

UNHCR COVID-19 Response: Southern Africa, 1 - 31 March 2021

Situation Report
Originally published



Since UNHCR’s COVID-19 response began in Southern Africa in March 2020

  • 280,886 face masks distributed to prevent COVID-19 transmission

  • 156 health facilities supported to respond to COVID-19

  • 2.75 million people reached through COVID-19 risk communication

Operational Context

As of 30 March 2021, the region is reporting 1,975,877 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the 16 countries covered by UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Southern Africa. This includes 75,554 new cases in March, during which time there has been a 40 per cent decrease in the number of active cases. Many countries are recording a decreasing trend as the “second wave” subsides, however, Botswana, Comoros, Madagascar and Mauritius notably reported new spikes in case numbers. Restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 have been eased in many countries, with borders reopening and travel restrictions being lifted. However, basic measures such as maskwearing, limits on social gatherings and curfews remain in place in much of the region.

UNHCR and partners have been maintaining protection services and other life-saving assistance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 mitigation measures are in place at registration and distribution points, and hotlines and community structures support protection case management. Since the beginning of the response to COVID-19 in March 2020, UNHCR has focused on risk communication an awareness-raising to spread information about COVID-19 prevention and services. Health systems strengthening has been a priority, equipping health centres, training health workers, and establishing isolation and quarantine centres. Additional handwashing facilities have been installed and additional soap continues to be distributed. UNHCR has also been providing cash assistance and core relief items (CRIs) to those worst impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. Where schools have been closed, children and youth have been supported with virtual and distance learning, and as schools reopen they have been supported to implement COVID-19 preventive measures.

UNHCR is working closely with governments, the World Health Organization and other UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to secure the inclusion of people of concern to UNHCR – refugees, asylumseekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and stateless persons – into preparedness and response measures for COVID-19. Given the impacts on livelihoods and economic opportunities, UNHCR advocates for people of concern to UNHCR to be included into social safety nets and other social assistance programmes for COVID-19.

Importantly, countries in the region including Angola, Malawi, Republic of the Congo (RoC), South Africa and Zimbabwe have started rolling out COVID-19 vaccination programmes with stocks acquired through COVAX, as well as contributions from other countries and direct acquisition from manufacturers. UNHCR Representations across the region have actively engaged with government ministries to ensure that people of concern are included in national vaccine plans, and in some cases, such as in the DRC and Malawi, UNHCR is part of national task forces and working groups developing vaccine roll-out plans and strategies. To date, no country has expressly excluded people of concern, and some have included specific consideration for people of concern as vulnerable groups under national plans.