COVID-19: Lockdown threatens Congo with hardships

People are allowed to step out to buy essential supplies every four days in Kinshasa province

By Andre Palice Ndimurukundo
Published: Wednesday 01 April 2020
Around 60 rapid response team members, including from other regions of the country, have been trained on coronavirus preparedness. Source: WHO

Days after the Democratic Republic of Congo ordered a complete lockdown of Kinshasa province to combat novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, residents are facing a hard time accessing essential supplies.

More than 11 million people have been barred from moving out of their homes for three weeks. They can step out to get essential supplies every four days.  

President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi had declared health emergency and ordered isolation of Kinshasa to limit the spread on March 24.

However, the measures have weighed heavily on the daily experience of the Congolese. 

On March 27, people of Kinshasa thronged markets to buy food supplies — only to return empty-handed.

“I went to several markets, but most of them did not have even toilet paper. I don’t know if I’ll find potatoes,” said Mariam Gwabije, a resident.

The prices of many items have skyrocketed.

“Price for one kilogram of fresh fish has doubled. The same is true for a bag of flour. Hunger will kill us during confinement especially, since we have not been warned,” said Mugoli Camunani, another buyer.

The ripples could be felt in the eastern provinces of DR Congo. In Bukavu, the main city of the South Kivu province, and in the province of Ituri, the prices of certain products such as flour, peanut oil, beans and rice have also increased.

According to people in the transportation business, passengers have to shell out $16 instead of $5 to leave for Bukavu from Uvira. Most buses are now allowed to carry only nine people instead of 18.

On the other hand, organisations fear losing their employees to the lockdown.

“I urge business leaders not to use any legal measures that threaten the professional safety of employees during this period of struggle,” Néné Ilunga Nkulu, minister of state, Minister of Employment, Labour and Occupational Protection, said.

Meanwhile, politicians and other public figures have started engaging the public, requesting them to follow all precuations and practise social distancing. 

Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2018, held a press briefing on March 26 to raise awareness about the prevention of COVID-19 spread.

“The worst could happen if people do not take preventive measures,” he insisted, noting that “community mobilisation remains an effective weapon against infectious diseases”.

On March 25, an awareness campaign called titled “Be Responsible, Let’s Save Lives” was launched by the First Lady in collaboration with well-known artists and public figures. On March 24, more than 150 digital projects were received on the official website in a bid to control COVID-19 pandemic in DR Congo.

In a statement issued the same day, the Central Bank of Congo invited the Congolese people to use electronic money to limit the risk of contamination. “About cash flow, the BCC invites the entire Congolese population to use electronic payment methods (M-Pesa, Airtel Money, Orange Money, etc.) to reduce the risk of contamination due to cash handling.”, the press release read.

The president shared also the idea of establishing a fund to support the efforts of the national executive: “I appeal to the national solidarity of all economic operators as well as other countries and organisations that will lead to the establishment of a national fund of solidarity against the novel coronavirus.”

 He also talked about the urgency for Pharmakina, a local pharmaceutical company, to produce an industrial quantity of Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to meet the treatment needs of patients.

However, scientists have warned of limitations of these measures.

“Confinement is not effective in a country where people live on what they earn per day. With confinement, the entire Africa will experience a double misfortune: that of dying of hunger or of the virus. That is why I recommend prevention, prevention and nothing but prevention,” said Mukwege.

They stressed on social distancing and maintaining regular hygiene.

“Confinement and social distancing are new preventive measures. Awareness must emphasise social distancing and hygiene,” said Rodriguez Kasando, a communication expert.

He added that $135 million envelope in the contingency plan would not cover the need for awareness, purchase of protective and screening equipment and payment of personnel involved in the response.

As of now, the country is banking on the expertise of its health professionals in its fight against the virus.

“Congolese doctors and nurses have fought Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. In addition, preventive messages are easy to disseminate because people only recently battled Ebola epidemic. They are already mobilized,” said Kasando.


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