In Nigeria, some worried their president might be among the victims. Long skittish about President Muhammadu Buhari’s absences from public view, including weeks in London for treatment for unspecified health problems, they took to Twitter to ask why he hadn’t addressed the nation as virus cases rose.
Buhari’s office dismissed speculation about his whereabouts as unfounded rumor. When he did emerge Sunday night, he announced that all private jet flights were suspended. The international airports were already closed.
While the travel restrictions have grounded the merely wealthy, political analyst Alex Rusero said a determined African leader probably could still find a way to go abroad for care.
“They are scared of death so much they will do everything within their disposal, even if it’s a private jet to a private hospital in a foreign land,” said Rusero, who is based in Zimbabwe, whose late President Robert Mugabe often sought treatment in Asia.
Perhaps nowhere is the situation bleaker than in Zimbabwe, where the health system has collapsed. Even before the pandemic, patients’ families were often asked to provide essentials like gloves and clean water. Doctors last year reported using bread bags to collect patients’ urine.
Zimbabwe’s vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, departed last month for unrelated medical treatment in China, as the outbreak eased in that country. Zimbabwe closed its borders days later after its first virus death.
Chiwenga has since returned – to lead the country’s coronavirus task force.
But some in a new generation of African leaders have been eager to show sensitivity to virus-prevention measures.
The president of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi, initially defied his country’s restrictions on travel by government employees to visit neighboring Namibia for its leader’s inauguration. But he entered self-quarantine and now reminds others to stay home, calling it “literally a matter of life and death”.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced he had tested negative, just ahead of a three-week lockdown in Africa’s most developed country. Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina has as well.
Other leaders, including Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, have tweeted images of themselves working via videoconference as countries encourage people to keep their distance.
While African leaders are more tied to home than ever, their access to medical care is still far better than most of their citizens’.
In Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, medical student Franck Bienvenu Zida was self-isolating and worried after having contact with someone who tested positive.
The 26-year-old feared infecting people where he lives, but his efforts to get tested were going nowhere. In three days of calling an emergency number to request a test, he could not get through.-AsianAge