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In Sweden, more Somalis are dying of Coronavirus than any other group

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Twelve new deaths connected to the Coronavirus were confirmed in Sweden on Monday, and there is particular concerns about Swedish-Somalis, as at least six of 15 people to die from the virus in the Stockholm area so far are of Somali background.

According to the Swedish-Somali medical association, lack of information in Somali during the early stages of the pandemic may have played a role.

Somali-Swedes have criticised authorities for not doing enough to support the community during the Coronavirus pandemic, national broadcaster SVT has reported.

The Swedish capital has been hardest hit so far by COVID-19. In response to the deaths, authorities said they will be distributing information about the coronavirus in 15 languages – including Somali and Arabic.

As the coronavirus spreads in Sweden, there are concerns that working class areas of the country will be the hardest hit.

The virus has been reported in the Jarva area of Stockholm, which includes districts Kista-Rinkeby and Tensta, and around 90 percent of the population coming from an immigrant background.

A local doctor suggested the virus may have spread during Friday prayers at a local mosque, but blamed authorities for not spreading information about how the disease is transmitted earlier.

“When [coronavirus] spread to Sweden, there was not so much information in Somali, and many continued living as usual,” Jihan Mohamed , a board member of the Swedish Somali Medical association, told the publication.

“Many live in crammed quarters there. Several generations can live in the same apartment,” he added.

One quarter of the people who have died from coronavirus in the UK have come from Muslim backgrounds, which has been put down to the same factors.

She went on to add that cultural practises may have also inadvertently played a role in spreading the virus.

“In Somali culture, it is important to socialise, support and visit each other, especially if someone is ill.”

The national broadcaster SVT started texting their news broadcasts in Arabic, citing “the great need for information due to coronavirus epidemic” and other national media produced material in Arabic and Somali.

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Somalia coronavirus cases could shoot up, testing still a problem

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The number of Covid-19 cases in Somalia could shoot up, with one of the seven cases having no travel history or contact with the confirmed cases.

There could also be undetected cases, patients with coronavirus-like symptoms visiting hospitals, and not getting tested because the country lacks testing capacity.

Somalia depends on testing centres run by the World Health Organisation in neighbouring Kenya.

There are fears the virus could now be transmitted locally, meaning people with no history of travel or contact with those who have been abroad are contracting the virus.

The Somali Medical Association has warned that the virus could kill many more people in Somalia because there are no testing kits in the country and they have to wait at least three days to get results.

The country recording its first case on March 16, 2020. There is great concern about the possibility of an outbreak due to lack of healthcare infrastructure, and should there be an breaksout, it would be difficult for medics and humanitarian agencies to reach areas under al Shabab, which has a history of disrupting humanitarian work.

Somalia’s healthcare infrastructure is weak; it ranks 194th out of 195 in the Global Health Security Index. The country has less than 29 ICU beds available.

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In northeast Kenya, residents are not taking coronavirus precautions seriously

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Mandera residents protest against suspension of khat trade. Photo: Courtesy.
   

Up to 30 cars lined up in front of a beauty parlour in Wajir town, 307 miles northeast of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, getting ready to take a bride and her bridesmaids to a wedding reception.

Some 500 meters away, a dozen people congragate at kiosks buying khat, also known as miraa, stimulant leaves that grows mainly in Meru County, central Kenya.

The local county government suspended the khat trade a month ago for fear it may help spread Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that killed tens of thousands of people worldwide. Khat may have been smuggled here, but it is a thriving business conducted in the open market.

Residents are shrugging off pleas from public health officials and politicians to minimise movements, avoid public gatherings and to practice social-distancing.

This week alone, five weddings took place in this town of 90,000 people, attracting hundreds of people, violating a government directive that prohibited social gatherings including weddings to help curb the spread of the virus.

According to a Ministry of Health data, 25-30 percent of Kenya’s Coronavirus transmissions are now local, meaning people with no history of travel or contact with those who have been abroad are contracting the virus.

Both the national and county governments across Kenya imposed some form of restrictions to fight the virus, but there has been laxity in implementing those directives in Northeastern region. Garissa and Mandera, the two other major towns in the region, are experiencing the same problem. In Mandera, police arrested dozens of wedding goers, and released them without charges.

Restaurants are not operating normally, they are providing take-away services only, as directed by the government. But tea kiosks remain open and, locals gather there for an afternoon tea, discussing local politics, in close proximity without keeping apart from one another, potentially endangering their lives.

With the Easter Holiday approaching, and rampant fear of a total shutdown, a large number of Nairobi residents are fanning out to other towns including Wajir, Garissa and Mandera, unknowingly taking the virus with them.

It is like the term ‘social distancing’ has not been heard in this part of the world yet. Greetings are exchanged in the normal way, and hands are not washed regularly. The Coronavirus threat is not taken seriously.

“We trust in God, coronavirus won’t reach Wajir,” said Mohamed Osman, 60, sipping his tea. It turns out plenty of people agree with him.

Some say the virus is ‘just like the flu, it is normal. Others say if they are infected, they know how to cure.

They do not understand the importance of social-distancing because they are not worried about contracting the virus and they do not understand how social-distancing can help other people.

Kenyan authorities are enforcing directives meant to limit person-to-person contact amid the coronavirus pandemic, but implementing some of these measures in this region remain elusive.

Some blame the police for taking bribe and allowing normal life to go on as if coronavirus is thousands of miles away. Sometimes, police patrol the streets looking for violators but deliberately overlook the khat sellers and wedding events, and sometimes, they do disperse a crowd of small groups of people.

“The police don’t care. They are bribed and businesses that have been banned or suspended remain in operation,” Hassan Abdi said, pointing his finger at a nearby kiosk selling khat.

County governments in the region made announcements banning the khat trade but never tried to enforce its orders fully, and do not coordinate with the national government for full implementation.

Back to the beauty parlour, wedding goers boarded the line of cars, each carrying more than its capacity, driven away to a wedding hall east of the town. Around two-dozen women gather for a pridal party.

Kenya has 158 cases of the novel coronavirus, with six fatalities and four recoveries. Northeastern has not yet recorded any coronavirus case, but it remains potentially vulnerable, as coronavirus threat grows.

County governments in the region say they have prepared isolation wards for a possible coronavirus outbreak, but hospitals in this region are struggling to provide basic healthcare for residents due to lack of facilities and drugs as a result of decades of neglect by the central authority, and mismanagement and corruption at local level.

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In the era of social-distancing due to Coronavirus, al Shabab holds its largest gathering

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As the Coronavirus cases nears a million and the death toll 40,000, and the world almost shutting down, with key events, sessential and non-essential, being canceled, moved or postponed, Somalia’s al Shabab group has held one of its largest gatherings to discuss major issues including the Coronavirus itself.

The summit took place at a time when the world is ravaged by Covid-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus, while attendees not considering 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. More than 100 officials, members, and clan elders attended the five-day event held in an unknown area.

The coronavirus is spread from person to person when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes. So people in close contact are at high risk.

Al Shabab acknowledged the dangers the Coronavirus posses the world, but does nothing to prevent it in the areas it controls. The group sees the disease came as a result of ‘God’s wrath; a punishment to non-Muslims and a test to Muslims.’

Blessing in disguise

According to Somali Memo, a pro- al Shabab news site, the Coronavirus pandemic is a blessing in disguise for the group. It says military operations, especially the US drone attacks on al Shabab targets and anti-terror summits around the world have been halted.

This could be a chance for the al Qaeda-linked group to reorganise as Somalia and its international partners struggle to contain the global pandemic.

For 10 years, al Shabab has been fighting to topple the Somalia government.

“The Coronavirus has weakened the economy of the US and other countries that fight al Shabab,” Somali Memo said.

Somalia has three Coronavirus cases, with the country’s health ministry reporting the first positive case was a Somali citizen who was returning home from China on March 16. Somalia lacks essential equipment for the intensive care that Covid-19 patients need, Fowsiya Abikar told The Associated Press.

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.

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