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South Sudan Declares Partial Lockdown on COVID Surge

FILE - Members of medical team carry the body of a deceased COVID patient on a stretcher at a Ministry of Health Infectious Disease Unit in Juba, South Sudan, May 28, 2020.
FILE - Members of medical team carry the body of a deceased COVID patient on a stretcher at a Ministry of Health Infectious Disease Unit in Juba, South Sudan, May 28, 2020.

South Sudan has imposed a one-month, partial lockdown after a jump in coronavirus cases. Africa’s youngest nation has confirmed more than 4,000 cases and 65 deaths but, some residents worry this first lockdown since June could hurt people’s livelihoods.

South Sudan’s national task force on COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, said Wednesday the partial lockdown was necessary after a surge in cases.

Taskforce member Doctor Richard Laku said virus cases have doubled in the past week.

"In the last seven days, we have recorded 218 confirmed cases, compared to the week before which is the week of 20-26th," said Laku. "We have 140 cases, but the week 2nd of February we have 218 cases which shows almost doubling of the cases along the two weeks, and this shows that the possibility rate has been increasing from last week to this week.”

The chairman of the taskforce, Hussein Abdelbagi, said the new lockdown measures affect all businesses and events that attract large crowds.

"Ban all the social gatherings, such as sporting events, religious events including Sunday church prayers, Salat Al Juma Mosque Prayers, funerals, wedding ceremonies and political events," said Abdelbagi. "Two, closure of all pre-schools, schools, universities and all the other institutions of learning, except classes scheduled for examinations with observations of strict protective measures.”

Abdelbagi said while bars and clubs will be closed, restaurants and tea shops are allowed to operate but must adhere to strict COVID-19 measures.

Buses and taxis must reduce passenger numbers by half, he said, and enforce wearing facemasks and social distancing.

He added that all incoming passengers on international flights must have test results showing they are free of the coronavirus.

On the streets of Juba, there was mixed reaction to the restrictions.

Thirty-five-year-old Godfrey Fred said he is worried the lockdown will affect people’s incomes.

"If you don’t move, survival itself will be very difficult, so at least we need our government to take another measure [but] not close everything because there are very many ways of preventing the disease," said Fred.

Thirty-four-year-old Data Gordon has doubts the lockdown can be enforced.

"I don’t see this new lockdown being implemented, because it is going to be a ground for corrupt practices like bribery for law enforcers who will definitely take, and we will get back to where we started," said Gordon.

Fifty-seven-year-old William Edward said the lockdown was a good idea to reduce the virus’ spread but said ordinary South Sudanese would need government support.

"Government has to provide things for the people to support them while they are in lockdown period to help them," said Edward. "So as South Sudan, people are suffering a lot and it’s not easy to get food, either they can break the lockdown because of the situation they are facing.”

South Sudan imposed its first lockdown in March last year but lifted it in June after the level of reported COVID-19 cases dropped.