Congo mining provinces impose new COVID-19 lockdowns

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo’s southeastern mining heartland announced temporary lockdowns on Tuesday in an effort to widen coronavirus testing and prevent a worrying situation from worsening, governors said.

Cases have multiplied in the central African nation despite the imposition of short-term lockdowns in some urban centres and restrictions on movement. A lack of local testing has fanned fears the virus is spreading undetected.

Jacques Kyabula Katwe, governor of the mineral-rich Haut-Katanga province, said a new 48-hour lockdown would come into force in the mining hub of Lubumbashi and the border towns of Kasumbalesa and Kipushi over the coming weekend.

“The issue: testing the contacts of (COVID-19) contacts … The situation is worrying,” Katwe tweeted.

Separately, the governor’s office of neighbouring Lualaba province said passenger traffic would be suspended with Haut-Katanga between June 18 and 22. Food, medical and mineral transport would not be affected, it said in a statement.

Health workers will be able to analyse COVID-19 tests more quickly after the opening of a testing facility in Lubumbashi, the governor’s office said.

On Monday, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned that many Congolese were waiting days and sometimes weeks to receive test results as the country only had one laboratory running tests.

Congo has so far confirmed nearly 5,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 112 deaths. Its figures are “a likely underestimate given the limited COVID-19 testing capabilities within the country,” MSF said.

Since the start of the epidemic, Congo, like many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, has faced the dilemma of needing to impose restrictions to curb the spread of the virus that risk damaging the livelihoods of millions who work in the informal sector.

Any coronavirus-related industrial shutdown could also be catastrophic for Congo, where mining contributed 32% of its GDP and 95% of export revenue in 2018, according to the central bank.

Reporting by Stanis Bujakera; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Tom Brown