Life returning to normal in Africa, but virus fears linger

SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA (AFP) – “Things are getting back to normal, even though it will never be like it was before,” said a relieved Petunia Maseko, relaxing in an establishment in South Africa’s Soweto township.

Africa has weathered the coronavirus pandemic relatively well in terms of infections and deaths, though its economies have been badly ravaged.

While many nations ease their COVID-19 measures and citizens dare to breathe a little easier, experts are warning against letting the continent’s success lapse into complacency.

There was plenty of celebrating at The Black and White Lifestyle establishment in Soweto last Friday as the first weekend of spring coincided with South Africa’s transition to its lowest level of lockdown.

The continent’s hardest-hit nation, South Africa has reeled under one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.

File photo shows a Grade 7 student of the Sitoromo Junior Secondary School in Sterkspruit, eating his breakfast. PHOTO: AFP

“It was tough staying in for six months without socialising,” said Maseko, a 21-year-old engineering student wearing a brightly coloured Ndebele traditional outfit.

But virus measures were followed, with masked revellers getting their temperatures checked at the establishment’s entrance.

Sanitising gel in hand, 26-year-old DJ Tiisetso Tenyane was delighted to finally play in front of a live audience after months of live-streaming shows.

“I’ve been craving to play for the people again,” he said.

He said that face masks are “the only sign left that there ever was a pandemic”.

On the rest of the African continent, daily life varies vastly between strict observance of health measures and total relaxation.

“We don’t care about corona,” Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara said, oblivious to listening microphones, when he kissed a party official last month in front of thousands of people in clear defiance of virus restrictions.

Although masks are still compulsory, that rule is “not respected anywhere or almost anywhere” in Ivory Coast, a health worker said on condition of anonymity.

“The hysteria is gone and the state no longer communicates much about the subject”.

In DR Congo’s capital Kinshasa, taking temperatures and washing hands are still the norm in the residential district of Gombe, which is also the city’s diplomatic and economic centre.

But in working-class communities, masks are being pushed down to the chin and people are shaking hands again.

For many the latest buzz phrase is corona eza te, which translates to ‘there is no corona’ in the local Lingala. In West African’s Burkina Faso, 43-year-old fish seller Ousmane Ouedraogo said he can’t wear a mask forever.

“We tried to wear it every day but it was the authorities who set the example by acting as if the disease was over. So we’re going back to our habits,” he said.

Nobody uses the hand-washing station at the entrance to Guillaume Traore’s restaurant in Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou.

“When you remind a customer, he tells you that the coronavirus does not exist,” he said. In Chad and Gabon, many wear masks low down, covering only the mouth or just the chin, only to hastily lift them up when they come across the police. In churches, mosques and markets, people jostle into each other. In the evening, however, a strict curfew remains in place.