No case in South Sudan yet as neighbours record upsurge

Saturday April 04 2020

A Unicef social mobiliser carries out public health awareness on Covid-19 at Mangateen camp in Juba on April 2,2020. PHOTO | ALEX MCBRIDE | AFP

By Garang Malak

By Friday, South Sudan was among a handful of African countries yet to report a single case of coronavirus as the rest of the region and the continent grapple with growing numbers of infection and economic lockdowns to slow the pandemic.

The Ministry of Health says it has so far tested 18 people suspected to have contracted the virus, but they all turned negative.

South Sudan relies entirely on its neighbours for food and other essential supplies, which means interaction with the rest of the world is inevitable.

Late last month, the government formed a high-level taskforce to monitor the country’s situation and prevent the importation and spread of coronavirus.

The taskforce is headed by President Salva Kiir, and comprises First Vice President Riek Machar and 30 senior government officials. The Minister for Health, Elizabeth Acuei Yor, is the secretary.

Taskforce agenda


Its agenda is debating, engaging partners and issuing regulations to keep South Sudan coronavirus free.

Since its establishment, the taskforce has held 10 meetings and has issued several orders for the public’s safety ranging from banning of international flights, closure of borders and learning institutions, and planning for funds to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

On Thursday, the taskforce adopted a resolution that granted landing permissions to planes owned by oil companies, the UN, diplomatic missions and charity groups, and agreed to continue with quarantine and other preventive measures.

However, the committee permitted only cargo flights to land at Juba International Airport, and they are required to adhere to set guidelines throughout offloading.

But even without the anxieties facing other countries, the public is alert. On Thursday, some civil activists criticised senior government officials for violating a presidential ban on public gatherings, undermining efforts to keep the country coronavirus-free.

Last month, President Kiir banned public gatherings countrywide. Activists say the Inspector General of Police Majak Akech was seen addressing a gathering of mourners in one of Juba’s suburbs last weekend.

The country’s Chief Justice Chan Reech Madut and his sons also allegedly refused to be screened at Juba International Airport weeks ago, when he returned from Dubai.

In Uganda and Rwanda, several cases were reported to have imported the virus after arriving from Dubai.

Social distancing

According to Augustino Deng, a member of the Youth Led-Civil Society Coalition, many people, including lawmakers, converged at Juba airport, in violation of the protocol on social distancing, when they went to bury the former speaker of Upper Nile State parliament, the late Gen Kur Akol, this week.

Mr Deng says the people violating the orders should be reprimanded.

“Our government officials need to respect the order of the president so that the public take it seriously too. This is an issue the high-level taskforce should look into,” he said.

“The chief justice incident was public and yet we do not know whether he went into quarantine, or any results of that quarantine,” said Mr Deng.

Minister of Interior Paul Mayom Akech warned that anybody found to have violated the presidential ban on public gatherings will be arrested and prosecuted.

There have also been claims by business people that security forces on both Uganda and South Sudan borders are aiding illegal crossings into the country.

The secretary for trade and border relations of the Ugandan community in Juba, Elias Mugagga, claims that some security agents are taking bribes to allow illegal crossings, especially at the Nimule-Elegu border point. The EastAfrican was unable to verify the claims as no legal movement is allowed on the border at the moment.

On Thursday morning, the taskforce granted special permission to Korean peacekeepers serving in the UN mission to commence their routine administrative rotations.

In a press statement, the taskforce stated that the Korean unit must provide evidence of quarantine of five weeks in South Korea and 14 days in South Sudan to join the peacekeeping mission.

Last month, the South Sudan People’s Defence Force ordered UNMISS to suspend the rotation of peacekeepers from Asian countries.

The Chief of Defence Forces, Gabriel Jok Riak had asked UNMISS to suspend the movement of peacekeepers from China, Cambodia, India, Nepal, and South Korea until further notice.

It remains unclear why the task force granted special permission to the Korean contingent.