COVID-19 in Africa


NICK EICHER, HOST: Up next, how the pandemic is affecting Africa.

The virus has been much slower to take hold in Africa, but cases there are growing. According to the African Union, infections now top 32,000, and the death toll stands at about 1,500.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Joining us now with a firsthand account is our reporter in Africa, Onize Ohikere. She’s based in Abuja, Nigeria.

Good morning to you, Onize!

ONIZE OHIKERE, REPORTER: Good morning, Mary!

REICHARD: Well, why don’t you start by telling us what daily life is like in Abuja right now. What kind of restrictions are in place, that kind of thing.

OHIKERE: Yeah, Abuja is one of three states currently under a federal lockdown, although several other states have adopted similar measures. For us here, that means only essential workers are allowed to go out daily. But for the remaining people, the government set up Wednesday and Saturday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. as the only time for shopping and other necessary movements. So, it’s quite restrictive. 

I was out over the weekend and I passed several police checkpoints and roadblocks along the way. Along the roads, you have vendors who sell fruits and vegetables and they were all absent. And all that was visible there were their wooden tables piled on top of each other.

REICHARD: Oh, that is restrictive. Only half days on two days of the week. Wow. Well, what’s the media coverage of the coronavirus like in Nigeria? It’s really all-consuming here. Is the virus getting that kind of focus where you are?

OHIKERE: Yeah, we’ve had similar reporting. As the cases have continued to climb—right now in Nigeria we have more than 1,000—we’ve also seen a steady rise in the news coverage of the developments across different states here.

But one interesting trend has been, we’re starting to see a little more stories of people who have recovered from the virus, sharing all they’ve gone through. And that has been one encouraging trend.

REICHARD: What level of concern are officials showing about the virus and the effect it might have on, say, African health systems, the economy, and food supplies?

OHIKERE: Yeah, there’s no denying the situation here is dire: This month, World Bank said Sub-Saharan Africa could suffer its first recession in 25 years. And the Afriacan Union has also predicted that the pandemic could wipe out nearly 20 million jobs across the continent. And so here in Nigeria, the Central Bank extended the moratorium for existing loans, but they also announced a $128 million stimulus package. Now, the goal for that is to provide loans to households and small business owners who are most affected by the pandemic. We’re seeing several states, too, also stepping up to assist people, although we know that the needs outweigh the current assistance. So, for instance, Lagos state is the most affected here and this month it targeted 200,000 households in the first stage of its response. And from what we’ve understood, a lot of them received food packages and items that could last them for about 14 days. 

REICHARD: So that’s in Lagos. What about elsewhere in Africa? What are you hearing from your contacts, say, in South Africa, where they’ve had one of the largest outbreaks on the continent?

OHIKERE: Yeah, South Africa currently has the highest infection rate in Africa. They’ve recorded more than 4,000 cases. People there are still staying indoors as the lockdown continues, although the government is trying to slowly restart the economy. But it’s encouraging to hear people are still looking for ways to help, even from their homes. One of the ladies I visited with in Johannesburg last month just sent me a link to her YouTube video that she made to help people learn how to make cloth face masks from home.

REICHARD: Same thing here. It’s so heartwarming. Well, Onize, what about you? Let’s hear what’s happening with you and your family?

OHIKERE: Yeah, we’re doing well. The lockdown means everyone’s at home now, so it’s been an interesting change. But on the bright side, it’s given us a lot more time to spend together. There’ve been a lot more shared laughters, movie times, more family prayer time, and even more time baking. We’ve made bread, scones, and a lot more pastries. So it’s been really good. 

REICHARD: That’s wonderful to hear. I’m glad. Onize Ohikere is WORLD’s Africa reporter, based in Abuja, Nigeria. You can hear her every Wednesday on World Tour, that’s a roundup of international news. And you can read more of her work at wng.org. Thanks so much for joining us today, and stay safe!

OHIKERE: You’re welcome, Mary. Stay safe, too!


(AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Residents from the Alexandra township in Johannesburg gather in a stadium to be tested for COVID-19 Monday, April 26, 2020.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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