Africa

Fearing coronavirus, African city dwellers flee to countryside

Each morning at a crowded bus station east of Nairobi, Kenyans load their bags on to minibuses emblazoned with the faces of pop stars and Jesus, heading to their villages in the hope of escaping the coronavirus.

“I am going back home because of corona,” said Amina Barasa, her yellow headscarf standing out in the dark bus. The electronics shop where she worked had shut, she said, and she was going to stay with her family away from the city crowds.

“There you just stay in your compound where your movements are very limited. Here in the city you brush shoulders with so many people,” she said.

Travellers in other African cities – from Nairobi to Kampala, Johannesburg and Rabat – are also heading to the countryside, worrying officials who say this helped spread diseases like Ebola in other outbreaks.

Traveling makes it harder to trace contacts a sick person has had and risks increasing transmission through overcrowding, said James Ayodele, spokesman for the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

George Natembeya, the commissioner of Kenya’s Rift Valley Region, had a blunt message for travellers.

“You are going to kill your grandmother,” he told a news conference this week. “You are transporting disease, and if people die, you will carry that cross for the rest of your life.”

Kenya has 28 coronavirus cases. The government has severely restricted international flights, begun a dusk-till-dawn curfew, and informed buses and the public minibuses known as matatus that they can only fill half the seats to prevent overcrowding.

Simon Kimutai, chairman of the Matatu Owners Association, said trips out of Nairobi had more than doubled the week after the first coronavirus case was announced.

“It was all one-way,” he said. Now, trips within Nairobi were down by 75 per cent, he said.

For some, the countryside is a refuge both from disease and the city’s high prices.

When Moroccan authorities closed the restaurant in the capital Rabat where Ahmed Agram worked as a waiter, he went home to the mountains of Taroudant, about 600 km south.

“The countryside is full of people who found themselves unemployed due to coronavirus,” Agram said. “In the countryside life is cheap and people help each other.”

Agram’s city neighbours won’t be able to follow him. Morocco, which now has 170 cases, halted inter-city travel earlier this week. -Reuters

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