As Africa locks down, some deliveries of aid threatened

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — More than half of Africa’s 54 countries have closed their land, air and sea borders to fight the spread of the coronavirus, authorities said Friday, but fears are growing that the restrictions are delaying deliveries of critical aid.

African nations have closed airports and locked down some of the continent’s largest cities out of caution, but that compounds the serious problem of shortages of health and other items. The continent now has more than 7,000 confirmed virus cases on top of sprawling crises related to hunger, locusts, conflict and more.

“If the chaos caused by this pandemic is allowed to curtail humanitarian assistance the results will be catastrophic,” the medical charity Doctors Without Borders warned in a statement Friday.

Aid organisations are now in the extraordinary situation of negotiating for humanitarian corridors in peaceful regions after at least 32 countries closed their borders, according to Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Some nations have made exceptions for cargo, humanitarian aid or emergency flights.

But at least 21 low-income and middle-income countries, most of them in Africa, are already seeing shortages of vaccines because of border closures or flight disruptions, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement Friday. The UN children’s agency earlier noted “major disruptions” of vaccine shipments by air, notably to West Africa, as many originate or trans-ship in Europe, and some countries have refused to accept shipments from nations with virus outbreaks.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres late Friday called on authorities to enable the provision of aid by “fast-tracking the passage of health and aid workers at borders and in-country“ by seeing them as essential workers, a statement by his spokesman said. It stressed “the need to aid those least able to protect themselves”.

In Kenya, travel restrictions have delayed the delivery of pesticides needed to fight the most devastating locust outbreak some East African countries have seen in 70 years, an official with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization told The Associated Press.

That’s just as a second generation of the desert locusts — 20 times the size of the first wave of billions of insects — prepares to take flight, said Cyril Ferrand, FAO’s resilience team leader for East Africa.

Pesticide ordered weeks ago from Britain and India have been delayed, leaving Kenya with “very little stock” to spray the locusts as the only effective control, he said. With time running out, authorities on Thursday placed an order with a local pesticide producer and, “in theory”, a new supply is expected over the weekend.

Such last-minute scrambling threatens to become common elsewhere.

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