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Coronavirus crisis

Somalia has been battling al Shabab. Then coronavirus arrived.

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A doctor and a nurse prepare a ward for COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo: REUTERS
   

Somalia is struggling to defeat al Shabab, an al Qaeda-linked group that wants to overthrow the government in Mogadishu and implement its own version of Islamic law. Since 2006, the government has been fighting this group which continues to wreak havoc across the country.

Then on March 16, an invincible and deadly virus arrived. The government recorded the first case of the novel coronavirus in the country. Since then, cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, continue to surge.

On Monday, April 20, health minister, Fawziya Abikar, announced 73 new cases, the single largest increase so far. The country now has 286 confirmed cases and 14 deaths. On Tuesday, April 21, six people succumbed to the virus, the highest number of fatalities in a single day.

Somalia is not conducting mass tests, it doesn’t have the capability, it tests around 100 people daily, but more than 50 percent turn to be positive. The country could be heading for a disaster if numbers continue to grow, as they show.

The government has taken some measures to curb the spread of Covid-19; setting up a call centre for tracking and reporting of cases, enforced a night curfew, closed mosques, schools and restaurants.

Despite these, Mogadishu, the country’s calital, has become the epicenter of the disease with 128 cases. The city is under night curfew, but during the day, markets and other places are overcrowded, making it difficult for people to practice social-distancing.

The virus is now transmitted locally, meaning people with no history of travel or contact with those who have been abroad are contracting the virus, and are spreading it.

Between March 20 and 25, more than 100 Shabab officials, members, and clan elders attended an event held in an unknown area to discuss a range of issues including the coronavirus itself.

Al Shabab acknowledged the danger posed by the virus, but unlike the Afghan Taliban, it did not elaborate its plans to contain it and whether it will allow medical workers to operate in areas under its control should the virus break there. The group sees the disease came as a result of ‘God’s wrath; to punish non-Muslims and test Muslims.’

Somalia’s healthcare infrastructure is weak as a result of three decades of conflict. According to Global Health Security Index, it is ranked 194th out of 195. There is shortage of ICU beds available, and no single ventilator needed to provide life support to critically ill Covid-19 patients.

Turkey has donated testing kits and other medical equipment, yet only one or two laboratories are equipped with machines that can process test samples.

Both government and al Shabab forces  continue fighting in central and southern regions, capturing and recapturing towns. Both need to pause fighting immediately to concentrate on the fight against Covid-19, and al Shabab should give aid and medical workers access to areas it controls. The group has a history of killing and abducting aid workers operating in its areas. This time, al Shabab should act differently.

Very few countries were prepared to deal with this global pandemic. And Somalia was not one of them. It’s politics and security make it even less prepared for any kind of crisis.

“Somalia has never faced a threat as existential as coronavirus; neither do we have the means to adequately counter the pandemic nor do we have capacity to overcome its devastating economic impact, particularly when half of citizens needed external support to survive,” says Abdirashid Hashi, director of Heritage Institute, a think-tank based in Mogadishu.

Somalia’s rural dwellers and its pastoral communities do not know much about coronavirus, some may not even heard of it. Lack of information on Covid-19 could be catastrophic.

Although radio is being used to educate the masses on Covid-19, some in rural areas mistake the coronavirus as the normal flu, and not take the necessary precautions to curb the spread of the virus. The government needs to employ local influencers and elders and opinion leaders to talk to people at the grassroots level.

Somalia recently cleared its arrears with the International Development Association and will benefit from the World Bank Group’s $14 billion global package of fast-track financing to assist countries in their efforts to to prevent, detect and respond to Covid-19.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    MJaffer

    April 22, 2020 at 7:15 am

    Very useful article well researched and detailed.

  2. Pingback: Garowe online accused of stealing news articles – The Jubaland Tribune

  3. Avatar

    Abdalla Haji

    April 24, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    The problem will be much worse than if the pandemic arise in areas ruled by Al shabab because they will not allow supply of medical facilities.

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Coronavirus crisis

Four Kenya presidential aides catch Covid-19 weeks after 100 lawmakers gathered at State House

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President Uhuru Kenyatta addressing Kenyans from State House. Photo: PSCU.
   

Four presidential staff have tested positive for Covid-19, becoming the first Kenyan government officials to have been infected with the deadly virus.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and members of the First Family are safe, according to State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena.

“As part of proactive measures being implemented to contain the spread of Covid-19, State House staff are regularly tested for the disease. The tests are conducted on all staff including His Excellency the President and members of his family,” Ms Dena said in a statement on Monday, June 15.

The four, who were tested for coronavirus during a mass screening on 11 June at State House, are undergoing treatment at Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital outside Nairobi, and their families and contacts are being monitored.

Extra measures have now been put in place for staff residing outside State House to contain the spread of the virus.

It is still unclear how the four staff members were infected with coronavirus. However, State House has seen a beehive of activity in the last two weeks, with the president holding two parliamentary group meetings for Jubilee, the ruling party, attended by more than 100 lawmakers, and on June 1, the compound hosted Madaraka Day celebrations to mark Kenya’s 57th independence anniversary.

Kenya has so far recorded 3,727 Coid-19 cases and 104 deaths while 1,286 people have recovered from the disease. The country just tested 118,701 people out of 47 million.

Kenya, East and Central Africa’s biggest and most advanced economy, is struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus as latest figures show surge in daily positive cases. The country is in a dusk-to-dawn curfew since March 27 and movement in and out of some towns including the capital Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa have been banned. Despite the government saying the curfew and the secession of movement has helped in reducing the spread of the coronavirus, the economy has taken a beating, with 342,000 people losing their jobs.

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Coronavirus crisis

Somalis observed Eid at home. But in al Shabab-held towns, they gathered in their thousands

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Somalis across the country celebrated Eid-ul-fitr on Saturday, May 23, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

And as Covid-19 sweeps across the Horn of Africa nation, the government urged citizens to perform the Eid prayer at their homes. But it was a different scenario in areas under the control of al Shabab militants.

Despite the al Qaeda-linked group acknowledging the danger posed by Covid19, the disease caused by the novel Coronavirus, thousands of people gathered at public grounds in areas under its control  to celebrate the end of Ramadan, risking their lives and increasing the likelyhood of the spread of Coronavirus at a time when people across the world practice social distancing.

In Kunya Barrow, one of al Shabab-held towns in Lower Shabelle province, hundreds of worshippers gathered at Sayid Mohamed Hassan Square for celebrations.

And in Jilib, al Shabab headquarters in Middle Jubba province, thousands congregated and marked Eid-ul-fitr. Other towns under al Shabab control in central and Southern Somalia observed Eid in the public.

Worshippers during Eid prayers in Saakow, an al Shabab-held town in southern Somalia. 

After months in denial, on May 13, al Shabab held an extraordinary summit to discuss Covid-19 and the impact it has on the community, and established a seven-member task force to deal with a possible outbreak of the virus in areas under its control.

The task force, comprising of doctors, religious leaders and intellectuals, will coordinate the group’s preparedness, prevention and response to the threat of the disease and advise the al Shabab leadership.

“Considering the fact that Somalis are communal society, frequently visiting one another, and are connected, there is possibility that Covid-19 may reach areas that have not been affected,” read part of a press release from al Shabab political office.
Somalia has more than 1,600 Covid-19 cases, and 61 deaths. The first case was reported on March 16 when a Somali citizen who was returning home from China tested positive for the virus.
Somalia lacks essential equipment for the intensive care that Covid-19 patients need. However, Turkey has donated medical supplies to help the government deal with the pandemic.
If the virus spreads across the country, it would be hard to treat everyone, especially, those in rural areas where al Shabab controls and may prevent health workers from reaching those areas.

The al Qaeda-linked group controls swathes of land in central and Southern Somalia, and is fighting to overthrow the Somali government and wants to implement its own version of a strict Islamic law.

Al Shabab is known to bar aid and health workers from entering areas it controls, but considering its acknowledgment of the dangers of the pandemic, it may allow a few health workers in.

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Coronavirus crisis

Al Shabab has been ignoring Coronavirus threats, now it is determined to fight it

Editorial Team

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Somali workers in protective suits and civilians carry the body of a man suspected to have died of the coronavirus disease, for burial in Madina district outside of Mogadishu. REUTERS
   

For months, Somalia’s al Shabab group has been ignoring the threats posed by the novel coronavirus as the virus continued to spread across the Horn of Africa nation.

In March, the group held its first meeting on Covid-19, but didn’t take the disease seriously. In the meeting hall, attendees, hundreds of them, didn’t consider the global standard of practicing social-distancing where people keep at least two meters apart from each other to limit the spread of the virus.

It said the coronavirus crisis was a ‘blessing in disguise’ for the group.

The Coronavirus could limit military operations, especially the US drone attacks on al Shabab targets and anti-terror summits around the world allowing al Shabab to regroup, accordimg to a report by Somali Memo, a mouth-piece for al Shabab.

However, the US has stepped up its air campaign against al Shabab in the first three months of this year, targeting the group 33 times in 2020.

In the March meeting, al Shabab termed the coronavirus as ‘God’ s wrath to punish non-Muslims.

But on Wednesday, May 13, al Shabab held an extraordinary summit to discuss Covid-19 and the impact it has on the community, and established a seven-member task force to deal with a possible outbreak of the virus in areas under its control.

The task force, comprising of doctors, religious leaders and intellectuals, will coordinate the group’s preparedness, prevention and response to the threat of the disease and advise the al Shabab leadership.

“Considering the fact that Somalis are communal society, frequently visiting one another, and are connected, there is possibility that Covid-19 may reach areas that have not been affected,” read part of a press release from al Shabab political office.

Somalia has more than 1,219 Covid-19 cases, and 52 deaths. The first case was reported on March 16 when a Somali citizen who was returning home from China tested positive for the virus. Somalia lacks essential equipment for the intensive care that Covid-19 patients need. However, Turkey has donated medical supplies to help the government deal with the pandemic.

If the virus spreads across the country, it would be hard to treat everyone, especially, those in rural areas where al Shabab controls and may prevent health workers from reaching those areas.

The al Qaeda-linked group controls swathes of land in central and Southern Somalia, and is fighting to overthrow the Somali government and wants to implement its own version of a strict Islamic law.

Al Shabab is known to bar aid and health workers from entering areas it controls, but considering its acknowledgment of the dangers of the pandemic, it may allow a few health workers in.

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