, 20 May, 2020 / 5:32 PM
The fight against COVID-19 in South Sudan requires an application of stringent measures especially implementing “a total lockdown,” Archbishop Stephen Ameyu of the Archdiocese of Juba has suggested following reports of infections in the family of the country’s first Vice President (VP), Dr. Riek Machar alongside other government dignitaries.
“I would prefer that we really go for a total lockdown; we have to lockup in order to minimize these new COVID-19 cases,” Archbishop Ameyu suggested in an interview with ACI Africa Tuesday May 19, in reaction to the latest COVID 19 cases that have affected the country’s first VP and his wife.
“If we continue to allow people to interact, this pandemic will affect the whole of Juba town (capital city) because it looks like people do not really take measures seriously,” the Archbishop cautioned.
The office of South Sudan’s First VP confirmed that their boss had been tested positive for the coronavirus, together with his wife Angelina Teny, who serves as Defense Minister in the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) that was formed February 22.
The confirmation note stated that “a number of his office staff and bodyguards” had also tested positive for COVID-19.
VP Dr. Machar, who was part of a task force fighting coronavirus, said on the state-owned television that he would be in self-isolation for two weeks at his Juba residence.
The country’s spokesperson, Michael Makuei confirmed, in an interview with Voice of America, that “he and all members of the nation’s 15-member coronavirus task force have tested positive for the virus.”
“Yes, I am positive. I am informed that all the members of the former committee are positive,” South Sudan government spokesperson has been quoted as saying in reference to the former High-Level Taskforce for COVID-19 that was dissolved by President Salva Kiir over the weekend.
The Eastern African country, which is emerging from a devastating six-year civil war, has so far recorded 339 cases of COVID-19 and six deaths, according to the latest figures from the health ministry released Monday, May 18.
Though the number is relatively low, aid agencies are sounding the alarm over a sharp rise in cases in recent days. In the first two weeks of May, unexpected deaths of renown military officers, diplomats and business men blamed on heart failures have been rampant in Giada Military health facility and other hospitals in capital, Juba.
In the view of the leader of the only Catholic Metropolitan See in South Sudan, there should be stringent measures taken in regard to the directives for preventing the disease.
Archbishop Ameyu lamented, “The Church is suffering with the people of South Sudan because it seems people do not really take their personal responsibility of preventing this COVID 19 from affecting them.”
“Unless we individuals take personal responsibility about our own health, it is not going to be possible for any taskforce to prevent an individual from being affected,” he added, reiterating last week’s religious pastoral statement that called for personal commitment to prevent the possible spread of COVID 19.
Decrying the public attitude towards the outbreak, the South Sudanese Prelate observed, “It seems that South Sudanese are looking at coronavirus as a not-so-serious sickness to human life.”
In the Tuesday interview with ACI Africa, Archbishop Ameyu underscored the need for the political leadership “to put a very strong preparatory signal for a lockdown in South Sudan.”
“We’ll need to prepare people for the lockdown. Perhaps spare some time after we announce it so that people can make provisions for families and communities,” he said.
“When that time for lockdown comes people will not be wondering because of the question of hunger…unable to stay home, thinking of looking for food somewhere else,” the 56-year-old Prelate said, emphasizing the importance of early warning to the public regarding the restrictions.
He further called on the government to start looking into providing relief food to households with a key focus on the vulnerable to avoid subjecting the people in lockdown to starvation.
“Food should be taken to the poor people in their houses and the vulnerable in camps instead, to prevent them from going to the market to look for something to eat,” he said.
Aware of the vulnerability of the Clergy, men and women religious in the face of COVID-19 crisis, the Local Ordinary of Juba said, “I don’t think that we will remain immune to this kind of situation because we are all interacting with people from time to time.”
“I am aware that President Salva Kiir made changes and I hope these new changes will bring at least a strict kind of means to apply to this time of the pandemic,” he said, expressing optimism in the new South Sudan’s Taskforce on COVID-19, which President Kiir reconstituted last weekend, to be headed by the VP in charge of the government’s service cluster, Hussein Abdelbagi.
“I am really very sorry for what has happened to the second family, especially Dr. Riek Machar and his wife Hon. Angelina and all the body guards,” he said and added, “I pray that God will really save them from this pandemic. I wish them well.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa