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With no confirmed cases of COVID-19, Mozambique prepares for looming outbreak

The President of the Republic of Mozambique's alert on the cover of the newspaper Público, on 9 March 2020. Photo by Dércio Tsandzana, CC-BY

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.

With over 30 countries in Africa with confirmed cases of COVID-19, Mozambique prepares for a likely outbreak of the new disease that has infected over 250,000 people worldwide and killed over 11,000.

While Mozambique has not yet detected any cases, four border countries have done so: Zambia (2), South Africa (202), Kingdom of Eswatini (1), and Tanzania (6).

The Mozambican government recently disclosed its plans for containment and mitigation. It includes, for example, the identification of possible isolation centers in all of its 11 provinces.

Although not closing any land borders yet, President Filipe Nyusi announced a few restrictive measures, including:

Quarentena obrigatória de 14 dias para pessoas que vem de países com transmissão activa considerada.

Proibição de organização e participação de todo tipo de eventos com mais de 300 pessoas.

Suspensão de todas deslocações de membros do Estado para fora do país.

Mandatory 14-day quarantine for people arriving from countries with considerable active transmission.

Prohibition of organization and participation in all types of events with more than 300 people.

Suspension of all overseas travel by government officials.

The largest opposition party, Renamo, called for the closure of the borders, to which Health Minister Armindo Tiago replied:

Encerrar fronteiras é medida extrema que só deve ser usada na perspectiva de um risco que possa eventualmente criar uma situação de calamidade, não é o caso. Mesmo neste momento a China não fechou as fronteiras, fez quarentena de algumas cidades.

Closing borders is an extreme measure that should only be used when there is a risk of calamity, which is not the case. Even now, China has not closed its borders, although they have quarantined some cities.

The Ministry of Health is also running a prevention campaign in schools:

Minister of Health Armindo Tiago co-supervises today at Escola Secundária Francisco Manyanga [in] Maputo, with the Minister of Education and Human Development Carmelita Namashulua and the Honorable WHO Representative, DJamila Cabral, a Lecture on Prevention Measures for #Coronavirus

But an SMS text was sent to several SIM cards in Mozambique with recommendations that many citizens found ineffective.

Did you also receive these messages?
First text in the photo: “Coronavirus belongs to a big family of viruses that cause respiratory diseases which vary from a common cold to more serious conditions such as pneumonia”
Second text: “Symptoms of coronavirus are similar to that of the common cold such as: fever, dry cough, stuffed nose, sore throat, headache, nausea and breathing difficulty.”

Historian and political analyst Egídio Vaz criticized the content of the texts:

Aqui está o dinheiro sendo gasto em campanhas ineficazes. Recebi este SMS, pago pelo MISAU a me ensinar o que é #coronavirus.

Este SMS é ineficaz pelas seguintes razões:
1. Linguagem técnica dispensável. Apesar da descrição ser genérica, pouco interessa ao cidadão. O cidadão precisa de mensagens que lhe ajude a tomar as necessárias medidas preventivas, necessárias atitudes ao se expôr perante situações de risco e por isso deve saber suspeitar com o mínimo de informação.

2. Decorrente do primeiro, o SMS podia simplesmente dizer que #coronavirus é uma doença que não tem cura e manifesta-se através de febres, problemas respiratórios ou gripe. Os médicos podem não concordar com a minha versão de descrição, mas o que eu gostaria com essa descrição é que as pessoas se dirijam ao hospital para o necessário despiste. Por isso, a segunda parte da mensagem seria “dirija-se ao posto de saúde mais próximo para o despiste”.

3. Tal como está o SMS, seguramente que deverei esperar pelo próximo, a me dizer o que devo fazer…

Estamos em emergência. Não é tempo para entretenimento.

Here is the money being spent on ineffective campaigns. I received this SMS, paid by the Ministry of Health, to teach me what is #coronavirus.

This SMS is ineffective for the following reasons:

1. Useless technical language. Although the description is generic, it's of little interest to the citizen. Citizens need messages that will help him to take the necessary precautions, the necessary attitudes if they're exposed to unsafe situations and for that reason he must know how to be suspicious with the minimum of information.

2. The SMS could simply say that coronavirus is a disease [SIC] that has no cure and manifests itself through fevers, respiratory problems or the flu. Doctors may not agree with my version of the description, but what I would like with that description is for people to go to the hospital for the necessary screening. Therefore, the second part of the message would be “go to the nearest health center for screening”.

3. As it is, surely I should wait for the next SMS telling me what to do…

We're in an emergency. It is not time for entertainment.

The health minister also clarified the myth that blacks are more resistant to COVID-19, a claim that has been made in social media but isn't backed by any available scientific evidence.

The authorities have also called on several international and diplomatic entities for support in the event of an outbreak of the disease in the country.

Meanwhile, President Filipe Nyusi himself urged Mozambicans to further mobilize to stop the outbreak on its tracks:

[A] COVID-19 é um assunto de segurança. Por isso, apelo para o redobrar de esforços na sua prevenção e vigilância.

The COVID-19 is a security issue. Therefore, I appeal to redouble efforts in its prevention and vigillance.

A message falsely attributed to UNICEF circulated on WhatsApp in Mozambique. The organization clarified the matter on Twitter:

UNICEF is not circulating a bulletin on #coronavirus via WhatsApp in Mozambique. For information on how to avoid COVID19, consult the PENSA Platform for FREE by dialing *660# or call Alô Vida for FREE at 800149, 82149 and 84146.

The government of Mozambique, through its spokesperson, also debunked fake news of an existing outbreak that recently circulated on social networks:

Attention: There are no confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Mozambique, as announced by the government spokesman at the end of the extraordinary session of the Council of Ministers. “The reports that are circulating are false from ill-intentioned people”

Following these recommendations, the ruling party Frelimo decided to cancel a meeting that was scheduled for March 20-22:

To respect the measures announced in the context of the coronavirus, the Party's Political Commission decided to postpone the session of the Central Committee scheduled for the 20th to the 22nd of March, to be announced.

Meanwhile, journalist Rafael Machalela shared photos of a possible locally produced face mask:

Mozambican to take this to another level. Like.

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