Mozambique: COVID-19 Cases Will Continue to Increase Until end of Year, Says Minister

The government is hoping to delay the peak of Covid-19 infections as a means of protecting the Mozambican health system from being overwhelmed, according to Health Minister Armindo Tiago. “Right now, what we are trying to do is push the peak to between December 2020 and February next year”, he said Tuesday 21 Apr. (AIM 22 Apr)

The number of people in Mozambique known to have been infected with the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease Covid-19 has jumped by 30 Friday to Sunday (24-26 Apr), to a total of 76. All of the new cases are at the Total gas construction camp on Afugi, Cabo Delgado, which has two-thirds of all detected cases. The other 20 are in Maputo and Matola. Of the 76 cases, 8 are imported and the rest are local transmission. There have been no deaths. The Ministry of Health publishes a daily bulletin on http://www.misau.gov.mz/index.php/covid-19-boletins-diarios A good up-to-date summary is on http://www.misau.gov.mz/index.php/covid-19-boletins-diarios?download=288:suma-rio-epidemiologico

The Ministry is stressing testing, contact tracing, and enforced isolation of contacts, which has led to the identification of a large group at the Total camp. The worry is that the disease is spreading in other places and has not been reported. One case reported Thursday is of a Mozambican man, resident in Matola and aged over 30, not known to have had any contact with the Afungi camp and not having been outside of Mozambique recently. Many of the cases detected in Afungi are asymptomatic but still contagious - meaning people did not know they were infecting others.

STV reported a suspected Covid-19 case who was not home when health officials arrived to check on him, and who had broken quarantine to attend his mother’s funeral in Magude, Maputo province.

More than 1000 cultural and tourism establishments have closed and at least 5000 people have lost their jobs, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Museums, libraries, schools, beaches, bars and casinos are closed; groups over 10 people are banned; these are some restrictions on public transport. Restaurants and bottle stores are allowed to remain open, but many restaurants and tourist resorts have closed. The largest poultry producer in northern Mozambique, Novos Horizontes, says it has huge quantities of unsold chickens on its hands because most of the clients had been hotels, restaurants, and take-aways, which have closed. It says it has 380 tonnes of frozen chickens in its freezers and 170,000 live chickens ready to be slaughtered.

There is  growing evidence that the state of emergency and restrictions are being ignored in many parts of the country. Police arrested a protestant pastor and his assistant in Zavala, Inhambane, who violated the state of emergency regulations by holding a religious ceremony attended by over 300 people. In Nampula city and Nacala, there is no attempt to ensure social distancing. Crowds of people continue to gather in formal and informal markets, at shops and banks, and in buses and minibuses. Drivers and passengers in minibuses are supposed to wear masks and the loading is restricted, but this is ignored.  (AIM 22, 23, 24, 25 Apr; O Pais 27 Apr))

Security Brief 2 by the Centro de Estudos Estrategicos e Internacionais (CEEI) of Universidade Joaquim Chissano has a detailed analysis of the economic and social impacts of Covid-19 on Mozambique, noting in particular that it will increase poverty and inequality. It also warns that "The possibility of total confinement of a population that survives from daily work on a self-employed basis is a challenge for countries such as Mozambique. The possibilities for greater resistance, demonstrations or the occurrence of acts of violence and vandalism cannot be ruled out. … If the government fails to approve a package of assistance for the people who will suffer most from the economic crisis resulting from the closure of economic activities, there will be an upheaval. … If the state does not inject huge sums of money into the economy to rescue companies and sectors at risk that are considered essential, the popularity and legitimacy of the government will be questioned." CEEI's Security Brief 2 is onhttps://bit.ly/CEEI-2 (Portuguese only).

Is lockdown feasible?

South Africa has the most cases and deaths in Africa south of the Sahara, with 4,546 cases and 87 deaths.  Because of different country sizes, it is easier to compare the rate per million population - South Africa has 77 cases per million and 1 death per million, compared to Mozambique with just 2 cases per million and no deaths. Zimbabwe and Malawi have 2 deaths each and 2 cases per million population; Tanzania has 10 deaths and 5 cases per million. (These are low compared to Europe and the US, which have 2000 to 5000 cases per million population and 200 to 500 deaths per million population. Portugal is seen as a success in curbing the disease, but still had 2,300 cases per million and 186 deaths per million.)

With relatively high numbers, South Africa imposed a complete lockdown to try to stop the spread of Covid-19. The choice as presented is cruel and stark for individual families - to suffer real and serious disruption and even possible hunger by maintaining social distancing (to step the spread of the disease), or to continue approximately normal life only to have a significant chance of major disruption due to family members seriously ill with Covid-19 and some perhaps dying.

A new study headed by Sam Jones at the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER) argues that most people in Mozambique, even in urban areas, do not meet the most basic conditions for lockdown or isolation, namely safe drinking water, adequate sanitation at home, and a source of reliable energy. Many more depend of a daily income to survive. They say: "Rather than blindly replicating policies from higher income contexts, we recommend practical alternatives to a complete or general household lockdown. While this must be designed locally, ideally with community engagement, part of such a package must involve extensive testing and tracking to identify virus hotspots, as in Vietnam, as well as extensive prevention measures. And even if a lighter form of lockdown must be enforced, large-scale social protection programmes (such as cash transfers) and basic service expansion (such as mobile drinking water stations) would be required to avoid an even greater catastrophe." https://theconversation.com/the-five-criteria-low-income-countries-must-have-in-place-for-lockdowns-to-work-136263

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