Much of South Sudan’s cabinet has Covid-19. What happened?

South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei contracted Covid-19 while he was on the country’s high-level task force to combat the virus. He was not the only one.

Almost the entire task force became infected, including ten cabinet ministers and first vice president Riek Machar. 

“I contracted the virus in the course of my duty. We contracted it as members of the high-level task committee, that’s why all the members are positive,” Makuei told the Mail & Guardian.

Another member of the task force, Dr Richard Lako — director of policy planning, budget and research in the Health Ministry — said that the source of infection may have been a single funeral attended by several committee members.

“They could also get it from their own homes, all of them of course have been intermingling with so many people. Some of them attended the funeral of other people like the Abyei major who passed away. some of them attended that funeral,” said Lako.


The major in question died of Covid-19, but this diagnosis was only confirmed after the funeral in Juba.

The task force was dissolved after the spate of infections. Shortly after it was reconstituted, with different personnel, its new chair – Fifth Vice President Hussein Abdelbagi – announced that he too was infected.

This week, Second Vice President James Wani Igga also announced that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Only two of South Sudan’s five vice-presidents have not had the virus.

Information minister Makuei is taking all precautions to ensure that he does not infect his family, friends or loved ones. “I am completely isolated from them. I have an isolated sitting room which I have turned into my quarantine. They serve me only when one person is assigned to me, who comes in with gloves in hand and a mask,” he said.

South Sudan has so far confirmed 994 cases of Covid-19, with ten deaths and six recoveries.

President Salva Kiir warned in a speech on Monday that the pandemic would overwhelm South Sudan’s precarious health system if the situation gets any worse, and used the infections of the vice-president and ministers on the task force to underscore just how serious a threat it posed.

 “Our health system may not be able to withstand [the] overwhelming emergencies we have witnessed in other countries if things get worse,” Kiir told journalists in Juba.

First Vice President Riek Machar has told citizens to get tested if they present with any Covid-19 symptoms. “If you present with fever, flue and dry cough, don’t ignore it thinking it’s malaria. You must visit the hospital and ask a doctor to test you for coronavirus,” he said.

But South Sudan’s testing backlog — at least 4000 samples are waiting to be tested — means that testing results can take a long time to be released. It can also take a long time for a test to actually happen. “My advice to the [health] authorities is that they should expedite the process so that they reduce the level of contamination and infection instead of waiting for over a week without samples of the contact person being taken,” said information minister Makuei.

As of June 2, South Sudan had confirmed 1,317 cases of Covid-19, including 14 deaths.

This article was first published in The Continent, the new pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.

READ MORE: ‘The UN didn’t do anything wrong’: Peacekeepers in South Sudan respond to Covid-19 criticism, Crisis, what crisis? How not to handle a pandemic

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: George Euvrard, the brains behind our cryptic crossword

George Euvrard spoke to Athandiwe Saba about his passion for education, clues on how to solve his crosswords and the importance of celebrating South Africa.

Poachers in prisons tell their stories

Interviews with offenders provide insight into the structure of illegal wildlife trade networks

More top stories

No one should be as rich as Elon Musk

The reactions to Elon Musk’s billionaire status are evidence that far too many South Africans have not fully grasped the destructive consequences of inequality. Entrepreneur...

Department of basic education edges closer to releasing matric results

The basic education department has said that it is almost done with the marking process and that the capturing of marks is in progress.

The rare fairytale of Percy Tau

Through much hard work and a bit of good fortune, the South African attacker has converted a potential horror story into magic

Somali troops may have been drawn into Ethiopia’s civil war

The Mail & Guardian spoke to Somalis about their relatives who disappeared after signing up for military training and fear they may have been killed
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…