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UNHCR East and Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes Region COVID-19 External Update (23 - 26 March 2020)

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The COVID-19 situation in the East and Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes region is evolving rapidly, with new cases reported each day since 13 March 2020. As of 26 March, there were 132 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the 11 countries covered by UNHCR’s EHAGL Regional Bureau. Although so far there have been no confirmed cases among UNHCR’s population of concern, 4.6 million refugees and 8.1 million IDPs and their host communities are at risk. Government restrictions on travel and public activities continue to change as the situation unfolds. Borders have been closed in many countries, businesses, school and other institutions have shut and national curfews introduced as a means to contain the outbreak of the virus.

UNHCR is working closely with governments, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Country Teams to promote the inclusion of refugees, internally displaced persons, stateless people and others of concern in national preparedness and response measures – in particular in health, hygiene and sanitation programmes. In the majority of cases, inclusive approaches are being pursued, yet fragile local health systems are at risk of being rapidly overwhelmed in an outbreak. In some instances, existing national systems and infrastructure do not extend to refugee and host community populations. Remote camp locations, overcrowding, inadequate water supply, and underresourced health services present enormous challenges, along with the vulnerabilities created by poor nutritional status and the impact of economic restrictions on livelihoods.

Operations have reviewed their programme criticality assessments, upgraded and adapted business continuity plans, undertaken contingency planning and other preparedness measures, and have started delivering essential support.
Many UNHCR offices have transitioned to alternative modes of working including teleworking arrangements, in line with WHO guidelines and host country measures to prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus. Staff remain at their duty stations and international travel has been suspended other than in exceptional circumstances.