By Fauxile Kibet
As the world race against time to stop the spread of the deadly Coronavirus that is fast spreading across the world, a humanitarian agency has warned that the virus has potentially devastating effects on refugees.
Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council says that the world should not abandon refugees in their measures to protect their citizens against Covid-19.
“As world leaders brace for the worst within their borders, they must not abandon those living outside them. We must turbocharge our humanity and stand in international solidarity with refugees and displaced people during this time of widespread uncertainty.
Across the East African region, the virus has already been reported in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia – which all host large numbers of refugees who live in crowded surroundings which pose a potential danger of an outbreak of the pandemic.
On Monday, Tanzania and Somalia became the latest East African Countries to confirm their first Corona Virus cases even as regional countries shut down borders and schools over fears of contagion.
Kenya also said that its health officials were monitoring three suspected cases other than an initial three already confirmed.
In Tanzania, a 46-year-old Tanzanian woman tested positive for the illness after returning from Belgium on 15 March, where she had been staying with a relative sick coronavirus.
“All in all, this is an imported case, and the woman is improving and continues with treatment,” Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said, adding that the patient was recovering in a hospital in Arusha.
Somalia also confirmed its first case of coronavirus and announced a ban on international flights in and out of the country, starting from Wednesday.
The coronavirus has now been confirmed in at least 30 countries in Africa and health officials in the continent warn of a crisis should the virus spread at home and into crowded low-income communities.
The officials say that Somalia stands a greater risk due to its weak health system which has been caused by nearly three decades of armed conflict.
African nations have begun imposing travel restrictions as many confirmed cases came from abroad. Algeria cut off all air and sea contact with Europe, effective Thursday.
South Africa announced it will revoke nearly 10,000 visas issued to people from China and Iran, two of the hardest-hit countries, in January and February.
“The internal transmission risk is now setting in,” South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, told reporters a day after the country declared an unprecedented national disaster.
CRAMPED REFUGEE CAMPS
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, millions of conflict-affected people are living in cramped refugee and displacement sites with desperately poor hygiene and sanitation facilities.
“When the virus hits overcrowded settlements in places like Iran, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Greece, the consequences will be devastating. We must act now,” Jan Egeland, the NRC Secretary General observes.
The Secretary-General adds that contingency planning for all countries must include vulnerable communities inside their borders.
“There must be flexibility from donors so that humanitarian organizations can scale up water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, improve the health response and take other necessary actions to help avoid a catastrophe.”
He concludes, “Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate or play politics, and neither should the world when it comes to supporting those most at risk of contracting the illness. We must stay and deliver and not turn our backs on people living in countries that need the most support during these extraordinarily challenging times.”