The eleventh case of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the Central African Republic – confirmed on 8 April 2020 by the country’s Ministry of Health – is shining a light on MINUSCA efforts to help halt the spread of the global pandemic while continuing to fulfill its mandate to protect the population.
Working in close collaboration with the government and the World Health Organization (WHO), MINUSCA is sparing no effort in ensuring that Covid-19 does not take hold, putting a plethora of measures in place to stop the spread of the virus, both among its approximately 15,000 civilian, military and police personnel and the Central African people that it is mandated to protect.
Working in tandem with national authorities
The Mission efforts go hand in hand with the guidelines set forth by the government to contain the coronavirus a little over a fortnight ago, when the Central African Republic (CAR) recorded its first case of the disease. They range from systematic checks at border entry points and the self-isolation of passengers from countries at risk to mass communication initiatives and the prohibition of mass gatherings and movements. Diplomatic corps and all international representatives were urged to follow the national directives.
Reinforcement measures were announced by the Head of State Faustin-Archange Touadera thereafter: limiting air traffic operations at the M’poko International Airport to a few commercial flights, humanitarian flights, cargo flights, aircrafts in difficulty and for technical stopovers without disembarkation; restrictions on the operation of educational establishments, places of recreation conducting mourning and marriage ceremonies; movement restrictions from Bangui to the provinces.
Sustained communication to change behaviour and promote compliance with the government guidelines as well as establishing internal emergency preventive measures has been the hallmark of MINUSCA efforts – to ensure that its personnel are not at risk or a potential risk factor for the population. These include staff alerts to communicate Covid-19 updates, such as on appropriate hygiene measures, reporting of any suspected cases of infection and strict adherence to the systematic 21-day self-isolation of all personnel coming from or having travelled through countries with local transmission. The latter directive is one that three members of the Mission leadership, including the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mankeur Ndiaye, have had to follow.
‘Exemplary and decisive cooperation’
Other crucial Mission-level decisions taken to tackle the virus extend to the temporary suspension of leave and the return to the Central African Republic of staff currently on leave or on mission, the cancellation of non-essential flights within the Mission, the suspension of rotations of its peacekeeping forces as well as travel for all new recruits.
Dr. Pierre Somsé, the CAR Minister of Public Health, welcomed MINUSCA’s actions in support of the national response during the Mission's weekly press conference on 18 March: “The efforts of MINUSCA are helping to protect Mission personnel while also contributing to the protection of public health in the country and internationally. MINUSCA has systematically referred suspicious cases to the ministry to obtain the necessary samples. In addition, material and technical support has been provided, particularly regarding the arrangements in place at M’poko Airport to better diagnose travellers. This is exemplary and decisive cooperation.”
Testament to such efforts is the constant presence of blue helmets on the tarmac at the airport. The MINUSCA police has, among others, provided six doctors and ten nurses, especially deployed to M’poko Airport to assist the national authorities in conducting health controls of arriving passengers, strengthened its co-location team to support the Internal Security Forces (FSI) assigned with the orientation of passengers and donated two health kits to their counterparts in the national motorized platoon and the gendarmerie, also providing advice on their proper use. The Mission has, furthermore, launched awareness-raising activities for the FSI and integrated preventive measures against Covid-19 into their capacity-building, including in training institutions, operational units and at headquarters.
As part of the communication offensive to deter the further spread of the coronavirus, media professionals – given their crucial role is combating the pandemic – received training in Bangui at the end of March, thanks to collaboration between MINUSCA, the Ministry of Health and WHO. The aim was to equip them with tools to better relay issues relating to Covid-19 to the public via different media outlets. Such cooperation has also extended to a jointly organized 22 March videoconference with prefects of the country’s 16 prefectures to bring them up to date with important information, in order to standardize Covid-19 response efforts countrywide