YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – The African continent could easily become the next frontier in the COVID-19 pandemic, with the World Health Organization’s regional director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, calling  the spike in COVID-19 cases in Africa an “extremely rapid evolution,”  and urging the continent to “wake up.”

As of Sunday, 42 of Africa’s 54 countries recorded confirmed cases of the disease, with over 1100 people infected.

Burkina Faso now has the most virus deaths of any country in sub-Saharan Africa and the most cases in West Africa with 64.

Across Africa, governments have put in place a raft of measures to limit the spread. These include enhancing basic rules of hygiene, closing borders, shuttering schools and limiting public gatherings.

Nigeria on Saturday announced it is closing airports to all incoming international flights for one month in the continent’s most populous country.

Rwanda said all unnecessary movements outside the home are banned for two weeks as of midnight except for essential services such as health care and shopping. The East African nation, which has 17 cases, told all public and private employees to work from home. Tunisia earlier imposed a lockdown as well.

Uganda is closing its borders to all but cargo. Ethiopia said all arriving passengers will face mandatory quarantine as of Monday. Republic of Congo and Ghana are closing their borders. But Somalia is lifting its ban on international flights for two days so stranded citizens can come home.

Africa’s Catholic Church is also taking notice.

The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said it “fully supports the call to take serious and drastic measures” taken to prevent the spread coronavirus in South Africa, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of the COVID-19 as a ‘national emergency.”

“This offers an opportunity for us to renew our appreciation of the value of prayer at home and in private – this has as we know a particular relevance in Lent where we are encouraged ‘when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret, will repay you.’ (Matt 6: 6),” the bishops said a March 18 statement.

The statement further said attendance at Sunday Masses would be limited to just one hundred people.

“Bishops will grant a dispensation from the normal obligations to attend Sunday Mass and the other sacramental celebrations to the elderly, the sick and children, “said the statement.

As a general precaution, parishioners will have to wash their hands with soap before getting into Church, and all priests, deacons and all those who administer Holy Communion will also have to wash their hands before and after the exercise, while the distribution of the chalice was suspended.

These measures have been largely adopted by bishops’ conferences across Africa.

Meanwhile, the meeting of the secretaries general of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of East Africa, AMECEA, that should have taken place from 24-27 March in Lusaka, Zambia was postponed until the end of the crisis.

AMECEA has also ordered the postponement of other international meetings for its different departments. This included the 6th edition of the Mashariki African Film Festival. Some members of AMECEA involved with SIGNIS – an ecclesial organization for media communication professionals, were supposed to participate as members of the jury.

In addition, the Jesuit conference in Africa and Madagascar, JCAM, has postponed the conference on the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, scheduled for April 16-20. According to JCAM President, Jesuit Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, postponing this event is “the safe and reasonable thing to do.”

After Ghana registered two cases of COVID-19, the Archbishop of Accra, John Bonaventure Kwofie, cancelled a workshop to support advocacy for women’s land rights scheduled for March 27-28.

Despite the measures being taken in Africa, there are concerns that the disease could spread as a result of the failure to detect cases, as is happening in other parts of the world.

According to John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Africa is still “missing some people.”

“The situation will get worse before it gets better because the chances are clear that people have slipped through,” he said.

For instance, of the 200 people who landed in Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital, on Thursday, 150 of them escaped, despite a government requirement for a quarantine. And on Friday, 188 passengers who arrived in Cameroon’s national capital Yaoundé from France also fled, despite the detection of three positive cases aboard the flight.

Most on the African continent have also turned to prayer in the face of the pandemic.

On Friday, the bishops of the Ivory Coast decaled a day of obligatory prayer and fasting for the victims of COVID-19.

This report incorporated material from the Associated Press.

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