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West Africa confronts a second wave of coronavirus

By Joe Penney

Governments across West Africa have implemented emergency measures to fight a second wave of coronavirus as cases climb.

West African states have avoided the worst of the virus, which has ravaged Europe and North America, thanks to early containment measures. But after restrictions on travel and mass gatherings were eased in many countries, combined with the arrival of harmattan season, numbers of newly infected have risen sharply.

In Nigeria, the daily new case rate reached 501 on December 20th, the highest it had been in months. On Tuesday, the Presidential Task Force announced stopgap measures that included the closure of bars, nightclubs, mandatory face masks, reduced capacity in religious venues and the reintroduction of travel restrictions for a five week period. The Lagos state government had announced similar measures a few days earlier.

The Malian government declared a state of emergency to fight its Covid-19 spike on December 18, limiting marriage and funeral ceremonies to 50 people and implementing enhanced screening at border crossings. Niger’s government also announced it would close schools early for the holiday period. Niger will hold presidential elections on December 27, and candidates have held large political rallies in the run-up.

Burkina Faso is also confronting a sharp rise in cases, with roughly the same number of newly infected people (2000) in December as there have been in the nine previous months, according to Dr. Brice Bicaba, who is in charge of the country’s Covid-19 task force and was quoted by Burkina 24.

Bicaba said that the December spike in Burkina is higher than the previous peak of April, and that the drier harmattan season has played a major role. “During the period from November to February more generally, there’s an increase in the number of influenza-like illnesses and the number of severe acute respiratory infections. It’s seasonal, due to climatic factors such as the harmattan blowing dust.”

Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire have all held large campaign rallies before elections over the past two months. Bicaba underlined the inherent dangers in abandoning measures that were previously widely respected, stating that “non-compliance with Covid prevention measures including wearing masks, physical distancing, large gatherings, etc., spreads Covid.”