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UNHCR West & Central Africa COVID-19 Emergency Response, 13 May 2020

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The West and Central Africa region has seen a 40% percent increase in new confirmed COVID-19 cases in less than a week going from 18,180 contaminations on 06 May to a total of 25,335 on 12 May 2020.

With weak healthcare systems and precarious living conditions in most hosting areas the risks of transmission among persons of concerns are high and UNHCR supporting governments’ response in key hosting areas.

In a region grappling with armed conflict, pervasive poverty and a food insecurity, it is crucial that the focus on Covid-19 does not cause these pre-existing crises to be neglected.

Operational Context

  • Continuous increase of confirmed cases. Since the first case of COVID-19 was declared in Nigeria on 28 February 2020, the pandemic has progressed steadily throughout West and Central Africa where it has killed 611 people. As of 12 May 2020, WHO statistics show 25,335 confirmed cases in the 21 countries covered by the Regional Bureau for West and Central Africa with 17,068 still active and 7,656 recoveries. In terms of active cases, Ghana (4,611) has the highest number, followed by Nigeria (3,670), Guinea (1,471) and Senegal (1,234).

  • Preventive measures and restrictions on movement. Governments have adopted sweeping measures to curb the spread of the virus including closing borders, imposing travel bans, prohibiting mass gatherings, shutting down schools, and closing markets. To mitigate the socio-economic impact of these measures, some countries are now relaxing or lifting some of the restrictions. In Cameroon, bars, restaurants and other leisure spots reopened on 30 April and limitations on number of passengers in all public transport including bus and taxi were lifted. However, the population must continue to wear masks in public places and respect the social distancing measures. In Mali, on 9 May, the curfew introduced on 25 March was lifted nationwide. However, restrictions that remain effective concern the mandatory wearing of face masks in public spaces. Schools will stay closed until at least Monday, June 1st and the country's borders remain shut, except for freight and cargo transportation. In Senegal, the President has announced on 11 May a relaxation or complete lifting of some of the preventive measures in place. The curfew has been brought from 19h to 21h, public services are reopening as well as markets and mosques. Over 10 million will be distributed while restrictions on public transportation are lifted. As far as schools are concerned, only classes with exams will reopen on 02 June, representing 500,000 students. The other over 3 million students will continue distance learning.

  • Specific protection risks and challenges for forcibly displaced populations. Refugees and IDPs are often residing in overcrowded and precarious conditions rendering impossible social distancing or basic preventive measures such as hand washing which exposes them to heightened risks of contamination as COVID-19 cases. Although only two cases of infection were reported among UNHCR’s persons of concern in Cameroon in Nigeria so far, forcibly displaced populations are also at heightened risk of stigmatization in situations of pandemic. In addition to these specific challenges, forcible displaced populations are also facing the increased risk of food insecurity in the region, particularly in the Sahel.