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South Sudan President Warns Against Coronavirus-Related Hate Speech

FILE - A member of a medical team wearing a protective suit cleans the staircase to a plane to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease at the Juba International Airport in Juba, South Sudan, April 5, 2020.

When South Sudan confirmed its fourth case of coronavirus late this week, an official with the country’s coronavirus task force decided not to disclose details about the person because some South Sudanese are stigmatizing those who test positive for the virus, he said.

Dr. Angok Gordon Kuol, incident manager of the COVID-19 high-level task force in South Sudan’s Ministry of Health, said, “There has been a lot of talk around these issues, so we decided to conceal" the sex and gender of the patient.

Kuol said the person known as the fourth case had come in contact with South Sudan’s first confirmed case, a 29-year-old United Nations staffer who entered South Sudan in late February from the Netherlands through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The COVID-19 team has identified 52 contacts linked to the first case and has collected blood samples from 29 of those contacts.

Kuol said others have been reluctant to get tested.

A total of 70 coronavirus tests have been conducted nationwide so far, Kuol said.

FILE - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir is pictured in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 11, 2020.
FILE - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir is pictured in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 11, 2020.

President Salva Kiir made a televised address Thursday to announce the third confirmed case in South Sudan.

In his speech, Kiir warned the nation against making xenophobic remarks against foreigners. The comments came after South Sudan had seen an increase in recent days of hate speech about foreigners on social media.

Caroline Wanjui, a Kenyan businesswoman in Juba, said she is frightened by several social media posts that blamed foreigners for bringing the coronavirus to South Sudan.

“We are feeling badly because when they start like that it’s like we are not safe. I am not worried about my business, I am worried about my life,” Wanjui told South Sudan in Focus.

Tyson Otieno, a Kenyan barber in Juba, said COVID-19 should be uniting rather than dividing the world.

“COVID-19 is here with us to stay and we should not have any negativity. It unites us. It affects you, it affects me. It doesn’t mind whether you are white or black, whether you are from whatever country,” Otieno told South Sudan in Focus.

United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) chief David Shearer worries about the negative comments he’s been seeing on social media about foreigners as well.

“They are pretty harsh comments. In a situation like this, anybody can get coronavirus. My real worry is to protect the people who have been contracting the virus; they didn’t do anything wrong. It’s like catching a cold,” Shearer told South Sudan in Focus.

Caution against hate speech

President Kiir urged citizens to avoid hate speech, reminding them that “COVID-19 can be brought into the country by anyone, including South Sudanese.”

Earlier this week, Dr. Makur Koryom, the undersecretary in the South Sudan Health Ministry, said the government will not tolerate any anti-U.N. comments or xenophobic attacks on foreigners in the country. He warned anyone who engages in such behavior would be punished.

Shearer told VOA the U.N. has imposed strict measures among its staff to prevent the risk of passing on the virus to others.

“We have frozen all travel of staff into the country and anybody who came in a couple of weeks ago have gone into compulsory quarantine for 14 days. We have drastically reduced the numbers in our offices so that people are working from home, so we are limiting the contact between people,” Shearer told VOA.

Carol Van Dam contributed to this story.