The World Health Organisation this week declared coronavirus a pandemic. The disease has placed the world under lockdown. Sport, tour and travel, and general business are under intense stress. Countries – rich or poor – are not sure on how to respond.
Within the East African Community (EAC), Kenya and Rwanda have this week reported the first cases of people on their soil testing positive for coronavirus, a highly infectious pneumonia-like illness that has so far killed more than 5,000 and been contracted by more than 140,000 people worldwide.
In response to the pandemic, US president Donald Trump this week announced a ban on flights from mainland Europe, particularly what is called the Schengen area. One may wonder why Trump targeted mainland Europe and left out countries like the UK, which have also been badly affected by the pandemic. But that is a different debate. Many other countries around the world have blocked flights from China, the country where the disease was first detected.
In Uganda, the government first prevaricated over the matter but has recently come out a bit more firmly, issuing orders on public gatherings and requiring arrivals from the most highly affected countries to cater for the costs of a 14-day mandatory quarantine, the standard measure for preventing the spread of the virus.
Not every country in the EAC, however, is taking such measures. Each of the six countries of the EAC is acting alone in the face of the existential threat that coronavirus has become. Some countries will inevitably have instituted less stringent measures than others, but the consequences are likely to be shared. This is because under the EAC, borders are collapsed and people move freely from one country to another, save for some glitches between Uganda and Rwanda and Rwanda and Burundi.
This means that people who contract coronavirus in one of the countries that may have instituted less stringent measures may easily move the virus on to a neighbouring country which may be vigorously protecting its citizens from possible infection from international arrivals but doesn’t do as much with regard to citizens of other EAC countries.
This is why the countries of the EAC needed to have moved as one and agreed on measures to be implemented across the bloc in order to more effectively deal with the threat that coronavirus presents. That there is hardly talk of such initiative, even when we share passports as EAC citizens, is a demonstration of how unwell the EAC is at the moment.