African countries shut doors to Europe to halt the spread of coronavirus

Europeans in Uganda express fears over potential backlash as disease spreads

African countries are shutting down travel from Europe in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus, as the disease has become increasingly associated with the West.

Ghana, Morocco, Cameroon, Egypt, Sudan and Djibouti are among the countries suspending international flights or shutting borders, despite the latter two countries having just one or no cases.

Kenya – which announced its first case of Covid-19 on Friday – has closed the borders to all travellers from countries with any cases of coronavirus, except for foreigners with residence permits, who will have to be quarantined.

Thirty-one African countries have now reported cases of Covid-19 – more than half of the continent's 54 countries. Though Africa has a young population – with a median age of 19 – the World Health Organisation has repeatedly warned about the devastating impact the disease could have there.

Africa should "prepare for the worst and prepare today," said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference this week. Many of the continent's 1.2 billion people are living in cramped quarters, including in informal settlements, with no chance to self-isolate. Healthcare systems are generally weak.

On Sunday, The Irish Times reported on fears within refugee camps, which are often isolated and where residents are dependent on aid agencies for food and healthcare.

“[There is] a lot of panic,” a South Sudanese refugee messaged from Kakuma refugee camp, northwest Kenya, on Wednesday. “People are fearing because refugees are always queuing,” he said, referring to queues for aid.

Irony

In Uganda, which still has no confirmed cases, arrivals coming from 16 "category one" countries – including the UK, France, and Germany – are being quarantined in local hotels for two weeks, some at a mandatory cost of $100 (€93) each day, or $1,400 in total.

"Be aware Uganda has changed the rules," one man, who said he arrived with the airline KLM on Tuesday, posted in a Facebook group for expats. "I don't have [a] problem with what they did if only they had given some notice."

Africans online were quick to point out the irony of Africa restricting travel for Europeans – as the reverse has been the case for decades. “If this virus called coronavirus had started from Africa, I’m sure American and European countries would have hated us [even] more,” wrote one Twitter user.

On Tuesday, the Irish embassy in Uganda warned it was likely that Brussels Airlines, KLM and Emirates would all reduce their flights from Africa, beginning next week.

Meanwhile, some Europeans in Uganda have said they are concerned about a potential backlash against them if coronavirus spreads. Several foreigners in the capital city, Kampala, told The Irish Times locals had shouted "coronavirus" at them in the street or on public transport.

"We are now fearing you people," a masked police officer told The Irish Times on Wednesday, at the land crossing between Rwanda and Uganda. "They see the colour of the skin, they fear you," he added, gesturing at local taxi drivers.

In a speech the same day, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni warned about the number of vulnerable people in the country, including those with tuberculosis and Aids/HIV. "Prevention is better than cure," he said.