With seven confirmed cases (two deaths and one recovered) of COVID-19, Angola is among the more than 40 African countries which have already recorded the disease in their territories.
On March 18, the government set up an inter-ministerial commission to fight the spread of the pandemic in the country. The Health Ministry confirmed the first two COVID-19 cases on March 21.
Angola closed air, land and sea borders to the movement of people from midnight on March 20, but has been allowing some flights to transport Angolan citizens abroad back home.
The government established isolation centres on the outskirts of the capital Luanda to house repatriated Angolans. A flight from Lisbon brought about 200 passengers on March 21.
Passengers were not all treated equally, though, according to some accounts. One passenger, Célio Alberto, told the independent outlet Maka Angola that authorities had divided the passengers differently for the quarantine:
Sem sabermos quais foram os critérios de selecção, as autoridades escolheram os passageiros que foram para o hotel de cinco estrelas Vitória Garden e os que foram enviados para o Centro de Quarentena no Calumbo.
Without us knowing what the selection criteria were, the authorities chose the passengers who went to the five-star hotel Victoria Garden and those who were sent to the Quarantine Centre in Calumbo
Passengers destined for the Nova Esperança Centre for the Development of Children, in the Viana municipality, had to wait for over three hours on buses before they could enter the isolation centre.
Passengers taken to the Calumbo quarantine centre had a similar situation, having to sleep in the vehicle before going in. Maka Angola told the story:
Manuela Silva relata, indignada, a jornada do aeroporto ao local de quarentena, onde chegaram por volta das 22h00. “No trajecto, com sirenes e batedores, fomos apedrejados na via como assassinos, como estando a trazer o vírus para matar os angolanos”, denuncia.
Manuela Silva revela que só às 2h00 da madrugada chegaram alguns indivíduos não identificados, os quais deram início à montagem de camas individuais e beliches nos quartos do Centro de Desenvolvimento.
“Encontrámos os colchões ao relento, todos empoeirados e os quartos nunca antes habitados, em péssimas condições. As casas de banho nem sequer tinham papel higiénico”, revela a passageira.
“Uma médica que lá se encontrava de serviço disse-nos para irmos fazer as necessidades no capim. Nem nos permitiu perguntar-lhe como as mulheres o fariam no meio dos homens”, conta Manuela Silva.
“A TAAG ligou-nos porque havia um voo de emergência para transportar familiares de ministros e outros dirigentes e podíamos aproveitar. Ninguém nos informou de que ficaríamos sujeitos a estas condições degradantes. Muitos teriam preferido ficar em Lisboa”, lamenta Manuela Silva.
Manuela Silva recounts, indignantly, the journey from the airport to the quarantine site, where they arrived at around 10 p.m. “On the way, with sirens and escorts, the passenger claims to have had stones thrown at her on the way like murderers, as if she was bringing the virus to kill Angolans,” she says.
Manuela Silva reveals that it was not until 2 a.m. that some unidentified individuals arrived, who began to set up individual beds and bunk beds in the rooms of the Development Centre.
“We found the mattresses outdoors, all dusty and the rooms never before inhabited, in terrible condition. The bathrooms didn't even have toilet paper,” the passenger says. “A doctor on duty there told us to go and perform our needs in the grass. She didn't even let us ask her how women would do it in the middle of men.”
“The [airline] TAAG called us because there was an emergency flight to transport family members of ministers and other leaders and that we could make use of it. Nobody informed us that we would be subjected to these degrading conditions. Many would have preferred to stay in Lisbon,” Manuela Silva says.
On the same day, another flight arrived from the city of Porto, the most affected by the new coronavirus in Portugal. According to Célio Alberto, also speaking to Maka Angola, there was no screening of passengers:
Misturaram-nos todos, os passageiros do Porto e de Lisboa. Não havia espaço nem condições para estarmos separados. Ficámos aglomerados e não havia quem nos desse informações nem estabelecesse quaisquer procedimentos de controlo. Mediram-nos apenas a temperatura à chegada, nada mais.
They mixed us all, the passengers from Porto and Lisbon. There was no room or facilities for us to be separated. We were crowded and there was nobody to give us information or establish any control procedures. They only measured our temperature on arrival, nothing more.
Family members of the internees are taking food to the quarantined passangers due to the state not providing sufficient food.
After several criticisms in the press and on social media, the president’s chief of staff appointed General Pedro Sebastião, Minister of State and head of the president’s security, to coordinate the inter-ministerial commission for the Management of Measures Against the Spread of COVID-19, to ensure that passengers would be housed in better conditions:
Agradecemos a compreensão dos cidadãos pelos constrangimentos ocorridos. O Executivo está empenhado neste processo e tudo fará no sentido de salvaguardar a saúde pública e o bem maior, a vida de todos os angolanos.
We thank citizens for their understanding of the restraints that have arisen. The government is committed to this process and will do everything to safeguard public health and the greater good, the lives of all Angolans.
Meanwhile, university professor Gabriel Tchingandu wrote on Facebook that he perceived a lack of information in the media:
Sinto muita falta de informação sobre o COVID-19 em Angola. Se eu fosse director de uma rádio ou TV em Angola, suspendia toda a programação normal do órgão. Montaria uma tenda de repórteres na entrada do centro de quarentena Calumbo e outra na entrada do centro da Barra do Kwanza. Outra tropa de jornalistas diante das portas dos hospitais e clínicas assistindo casos.
Outra tenda de jornalistas ficava montada diante do quartel general da Comissão Inter-sectorial do Governo. No estúdio, os diferentes especialistas de saúde, comentadores e autoridades esgrimiriam argumentos com o foco virado para Angola.
Outros jornalistas em diferentes ruas das cidades fariam relatos de testemunhas com interesse no caso Covid-19. A cobertura de factos e ditos seria “no stop” em 24 horas. Os jornalistas nesta cobertura especial teriam seus salários duplicados.
Assim ajudaria a combater o coronavírus em Angola, aumentando igualmente a audiência da minha TV/rádio
I feel very much there is a lack of information about COVID-19 in Angola. If I was a radio or TV director in Angola, I would suspend all the agency's normal programming. I would set up a reporters’ tent at the entrance of the Calumbo quarantine centre and another at the entrance of the Barra do Kwanza centre. Another troop of journalists outside the doors of hospitals and clinics watching out for cases.
Another tent for journalists would be set up in front of the headquarters of the government's Inter-sectoral commission. In the studio, different health experts, commentators and authorities would debate arguments with the focus on Angola.
Other journalists in different streets of the cities would report stories relating to Covid-19. The coverage of facts and statements would be “non stop” across 24 hours. Journalists in this special coverage would have their salaries doubled.
This would help fight coronavirus in Angola, also increasing the audience of my TV/radio
Journalist André Mfumu Kivuandinga claims that the people in quarantine were without food and that they did not know where their luggage was:
Segundo denúncias acabadinhas de me serem feitas por um angolano, cujo nome irei omitir, que se encontra no Centro de Quarentena, em Calumbo, Viana, Luanda, desde às 1 horas da madrugada que comeram até agora estão sem alimentação, também não sabem o paradeiro das suas bagagens.
Até aqui nenhum responsável do Governo ou da comissão multissetorial os foi visitar, o cidadão em caso é hipertenso”.
According to complaints just made to me by an Angolan, whose name I will omit, who is in the Quarantine Centre in Calumbo, Viana, Luanda, from 1h00 up to now they have been without food, [and] also do not know the whereabouts of their luggage.
So far no government official or member of the multisectoral commission has visited them, the person in question has hypertension”
Carlos Pinho, a young political commentator, shared a video on Facebook about the indignation of passengers, still in the area of the Quatro de Fevereiro Airport.
“Incompetência gritante. Mas afinal quando teremos um governo a sério. É disto que eu falo: dignidade”.
“Glaring incompetence. But after all, when will we have a serious government. That's what I'm talking about: dignity.”
After the decree of a state of emergency for fifteen days, another major problem that arose is the practicality of measures such as total confinement of the population, as discussed by the commentator Víctor Mendes:
Decretar estado de emergência e encerramento de todo funcionalismo público é o que venho falando há uma semana. Fechar para evitar o mal maior.
Inglaterra e Estados Unidos entram em lockdown brevemente. Foi esse o erro que a Itália cometeu.
Mas nós estamos perante um grande dilema. Sim ou não?
O nosso governo nunca se preparou para um cenário como este. Não fechar poderemos também pagar muito caro e com aquilo que não tem preço. Vida.
Decreeing a state of emergency and closure of all civil service is what I have been talking about for a week. Closure to avoid the greater evil.
The UK and United States will enter lockdown soon. That's the mistake Italy made.
But we are facing a great dilemma. Yes or no?
Our government has never prepared for a scenario like this. We may also pay dearly for not closing and with what is priceless. Life