The number of people infected with Covid-19 is rising sharply in Ivory Coast, which is now one of the most affected countries on the African continent with 879 confirmed, 287 recovered and 10 deaths. The first case of coronavirus was registered in mid-March and a few days later, President Ouattara declared a state of health emergency, the introduction of a curfew and a response plan against the disease. The situation is of particular concern in Abidjan, which accounts for 90% of all cases in the country. How may the health situation evolve? What measures have been put in place? What are the economic and political consequences given the upcoming presidential election due to be held in October? Baudelaire Mieu, an Ivorian journalist working for several media, including Jeune Afrique and Bloomberg News, answers our questions.
What is the current health situation in Ivory Coast? How might it evolve in the coming weeks?
The current health situation is quite worrying. We are witnessing a vertiginous rise in cases of coronavirus contamination that seems to have taken the authorities by surprise. The first case appeared on March 11, and we register 879 cases as of April 20. We are therefore witnessing, in a bit over a month, an acceleration of the spread of the disease. Moreover, these figures should be put into perspective because only people with symptoms are currently being tested in Ivory Coast. In reality, the number of infected people could be much higher.
The situation is particularly serious in Abidjan, where a "generalized epidemic" may unfold as the city alone accounts for more than 90% of cases recorded in the country. The challenge for the authorities is to accelerate their response in order to cope with the peak of the epidemic expected in two to three weeks' time. Authorities want to be prepared and to contain the epidemic by that time.
What is the government's strategy to combat the epidemic?
The government's first steps were taken on March 16 and consisted of firm instructions to respect social distancing and the prohibition of gatherings. On March 23, President Ouattara announced eight additional measures, including a curfew between 9pm and 5am, a state of health emergency, as well as a response plan against the disease amounting to 95 billion CFA francs, (approximately €145 million). Ivory Coast has already announced that it does not have the full budget and will have to call on the country’s financial partners to fill the funding gap. There lies the main difficulty in implementing the plan.
The plan is divided into several phases, the first of which plans to spend 28 billion CFA francs on medication, ventilators, gloves, surgical masks and any other necessary equipment. The second phase provides for the construction of 10 early screening centres in every district of Abidjan, a number which could increase depending on need and capacity. The city of Abidjan is currently under lockdown and is cut off from the rest of the country. While it is permitted to move about the city, leaving it requires a specific pass indicating valid reasons. Nevertheless, the city’s inhabitants keep on trying to get around these measures by deceiving the authorities. The population does not seem to have fully grasped the scale of the disease: non-food markets remain open, and one-metre distances between individuals are not respected in public spaces.