UNHCR West & Central Africa COVID-19 Emergency Response, 01 July 2020

The West and Central Africa region has seen a 40% percent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks with a total of 100,549 contamination as of 29 June compared to 71,791 on 15 June 2020.
Despite the restrictive measures taken across the region, limited cross-border movements are continuing through unofficial border entry points or allowed by the authorities based on protection needs.
As restrictions are progressively lifted across the region, UNHCR is collaborating with national authorities to organize the return of refugee and IDP students to school and allow for basic preventive measures.
Operational Context
• Continuous increase of confirmed cases. The West and Central Africa region has seen a 40% percent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks with a total of 100,549 contamination as of 29 June compared to 71,791 on 15 June 2020. Nigeria (25,133) remains with the highest number of confirmed cases, followed by Ghana (17,741), Cameroon (12,592) and Cote d’Ivoire (9,214). In terms of active cases, Nigeria (15,158) has the highest number, followed by Cote d’Ivoire (5,152), Ghana (4,361) and Gabon (2,932). The exact number of cases, however, is very uncertain, particularly given the low levels of testing. Death tolls are also unreliable as they may exclude people who did not die in a hospital, or who died before they could be tested.
• Confirmed cases among PoCs. So far, twelve persons of concern to UNHCR have tested positive to COVID-19, including four refugees in Cameroon, one in Ghana and seven IDPs in Mali. Among them two passed away (in Cameroon), two recovered (one in Cameroon and one in Ghana) and the remaining nine cases are still active being assisted by UNHCR.
• Preventive measure in the region. Despite this continuous spread, some countries in the region have relaxed restriction measures imposed to curb the spread of virus since March while others maintain or strengthen them. Among the measures taken recently, CAR is allowing a gradual reopening of places of worship and the airport. In Chad, the authorities have extended the state of emergency until 15 July and maintained the prohibition to entry or exit N’djamena remains except for necessity goods and foodstuff. In Ghana, while the authorities are reducing not wearing a face mask in public places has become an offence punishable by heavy fines or even time in prison. In Guinea-Bissau, the state of emergency was extended until 25 July and movements of people between regions were banned except for essential goods and humanitarian aid. International flights leaving the country are subject to prior authorization by the Government and flights into the country are allowed only all passengers got a negative test for Covid-19 up to 72 hours before boarding. In Liberia, international commercial flights resumed on 28 June 2020 with health checks for all passenger arriving or departing. In Senegal, the state of emergency and nighttime curfew imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus will be lifted from today. In Sierra Leone, people can now freely move from one district to another without the need for a special pass, as the government gradually relaxes Covid-19 restrictions despite an increasing number of infections.
• Impact of COVID-19 in West and Central Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a direct and indirect impact on the protection of persons of concern to UNHCR in West and Central Africa. Although the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities might still appear comparatively low in the region compared to other world regions, the pandemic Covid-19 is putting significant strain on countries’ health-care systems, social fabric, and economies around the world. In West and Central Africa, the pandemic has severely impacted jobs and livelihoods, particularly in the informal sector, aggravating food and nutrition insecurity, further damaging economic performance and jeopardizing the stability of the region. The informal sector dominates the regional economies. Most households are unable to survive without some form of daily trade. A very small minority have bank savings, credit cards, or access to online businesses to allow them to stay indoors for extended periods. There is a persistent need to go out for food, water, or work. Jobs and livelihoods therefore have been threatened by measures of confinement, social distancing, transport and trade restrictions, factory closures as well as market closures, force people to stay at home. The general economic slowdown in the region will soon be aggravated by a reduction in remittances associated with the economic slowdown in the European Union and other Northern economies hosting West and Central African diasporas. Several factors inherent to the region prevent effective implementation of certain preventive measures. Basic measures such as handwashing are not effective when over one-third of West Africans have no handwashing facility at home. Social distancing is also complex on a continent experiencing the fastest urban growth in the world, and where poor sanitary conditions generally prevail.
• Protection risks and challenges for forcibly displaced populations. Forcibly displaced populations are among the most exposed to these practical challenges. Many are living in camps and crowded environments that lack adequate sanitation facilities to prevent contamination from Covid-19. Many have very limited access to healthcare and basic social services, and many do not receive accessible information in order to understand how to protect themselves from infection. Although most of the countries in the region grant forcibly displaced persons the right to access national health services, the areas hosting refugees and internally displaced people, public health services are ill-equipped to deal with the COVID-19 as a result of limited number of trained health personnel, weak case detection management, inadequate treatment units, etc. In the Sahel or the Lake Chad Basin, ongoing armed conflicts have resulted in the closure of hundreds of health centers, and displaced populations are contributing to overstretching the capacity of those that remain open. In addition, the health situation is already fragile, characterized by the persistence of diseases such as malaria, respiratory infections, measles and diarrhea, exacerbated by a precarious security situation. These conditions provide the perfect breeding ground for the virus, adding an additional layer of challenges to those that these populations are already facing. In this context,
• UNHCR has been scaling up its activities to address the key protection risks face by the more the 10 million refugees, IDPs, asylum seekers, returnees, stateless persons in West and Central Africa.

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees