UNHCR COVID-19 Response: Southern Africa, 1 – 28 February 2021 At UN High Commissioner for Refugees

  • Since UNHCR’s COVID-19 response began in Southern Africa in March 2020
  • 274,523 reusable cloth face masks produced and distributed
  • 466,252 people receiving additional soap to promote handwashing
  • 2.7 million people reached through COVID-19 risk communication

Operational Context

The surge in COVID-19 cases over December and January has reduced in the month of February, and much of Southern Africa is seeing a decline in the “second wave” of COVID-19 infections. As of 2 March 2021, the region is reporting 1,900,323 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the 16 countries covered by UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Southern Africa. This includes 134,236 new cases in February, along with a 48 per cent decrease in active cases compared to the previous month. Restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 have been eased in many countries, with borders reopening and travel restrictions being lifted, however basic measures such as maskwearing, limits on social gatherings and curfews remain in place in much of the region.

UNHCR and partners continue to follow a “stay and deliver” approach, maintaining protection services and other life-saving assistance through the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and other COVID-19 mitigation measures are in place at registration and distribution points, and hotlines and community structures support protection case management. Since the beginning of the response to COVID-19 in March 2020, UNHCR has focused on risk communication to spread information about COVID-19 prevention and services. Health systems strengthening has been a priority, equipping health centres, training health workers, and establishing isolation and quarantine centres. Additional handwashing facilities have been installed and additional soap continues to be distributed. UNHCR has also been providing cash assistance and core relief items (CRIs) to those worst impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, while children and youth have been supported with virtual and distance learning to continue with their studies.

UNHCR is working closely with governments, the World Health Organization and other UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to secure the inclusion of people of concern to UNHCR – refugees, asylumseekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and stateless persons – into preparedness and response measures for COVID-19. Given the impacts on livelihoods and economic opportunities, UNHCR advocates for people of concern to UNHCR to be included into social safety nets and other social assistance programmes for COVID-19.

Importantly, countries in the region have been planning and, in some cases, have started rolling out COVID-19 vaccination programmes with stocks acquired through COVAX, the African Union, bilateral agreements, and direct acquisition from manufacturers. UNHCR Representations across the region have actively engaged with government ministries to ensure that people of concern are included in national vaccine plans, and in some cases UNHCR is part of government task forces and working groups developing vaccine roll-out plans and strategies. To date, no country has expressly excluded people of concern, and some have included specific consideration for people of concern as vulnerable groups under national plans.

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