Senegal sees dramatic rise in COVID-19 as summer vacation looms

BARGNY, Senegal (AP) – Adama Ndiaye got up before dawn to walk about 40 kilometers, hoping to get a sheep for next week’s celebration of the Muslim feast of sacrifice, Eid al-Adha.

As a result of the pandemic, selling ice cream no longer provides the 63-year-old woman with enough money to support her four children still at home, especially not being able to buy a sheep that costs around $ 140 to celebrate Tabaski, as the holiday is called in Senegal.

As soon as she learned that an Islamic charity was going to donate sheep to the poor, Ndiaye signed up to get one.

“I prayed a lot and didn’t expect to have a sheep.” she said. “God knows how much I appreciate this.”

After collecting her sheep, Ndiaye and other women from her neighborhood piled into a taxi with the animal and left. They will wait until Wednesday to slaughter the sheep and use it to prepare a feast to share with family and friends.

As millions of people in Senegal prepare for Tabaski, health officials are warning that COVID-19 cases are increasing dramatically in this West African country. In just a few weeks, new confirmed cases rose from dozens per day to a record 738 on Friday, then nearly doubled overnight to 1,366 on Saturday, according to the health ministry.

Nearly 36% of the 3,815 tests carried out in the past 24 hours have come back positive, the health ministry said on Saturday. Senegal has reported 50,374 cases and 1,214 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

In the face of the dramatic increase, President Macky Sall and his cabinet are limiting public gatherings and travel and urging the public to continue to wear masks and to frequently disinfect their hands. On Friday, Sall threatened to close the borders and re-impose a state of emergency if the number continued to rise.

Many in Senegal have relaxed their use of masks and other precautions after the country’s first outbreaks were not as severe as outbreaks in other countries.

Tabaski, which will be celebrated on July 21 in Senegal, sees thousands of people gather in large family reunions. Many health officials are worried that as the holidays approach, people crowd the markets and gather to buy sheep.

Only about 600,000 people out of a Senegalese population of over 16 million have been vaccinated. The country has a limited supply of vaccines and is awaiting further deliveries from Sinopharm and Johnson & Johnson.

About 30% of new coronavirus infections in Senegal come from the delta variant, according to Souleymane Mboup, director of the Institute for Health Research, Epidemiological Surveillance and Training, one of Senegal’s testing laboratories.

“We are facing a much more contagious virus,” said Mboup.

The increase in cases is “unprecedented,” Ministry of Health spokesman Mamadou Ndiaye said.

“The pandemic has particularly affected the most vulnerable segments of the population,” said Anne Catherine Dupré, project coordinator in Senegal for the group Secours Islamique France.

Since last year, 30% of the thousands of people supported by the group have been forced to reduce their food consumption due to the pandemic, she said.

“We are already dealing with very vulnerable populations, so in fact, for them, reducing it means that they will only eat once a day,” she added.

Secours Islamique France has been present in Senegal since 2008 and has distributed food and sheep during Ramadan and Tabaski. This year, they had to increase their donations due to the increase in the number of vulnerable people due to the pandemic.

“It’s important for them to celebrate Tabaski. It is the most important celebration in a country where more than 80% of the population is Muslim, ”she added.

The organization also distributes food and money, supports education and training for the unemployed. He plans to distribute around 2,000 sheep in the greater Dakar region.

Meanwhile, Ndiaye and others are hoping the pandemic will end soon so things can get back to normal.

“I pray the COVID will stop,” she said. “If there is good health, we can all work. “

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PA reporter Babacar Dione in Dakar contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that the name of the organization is Secours Islamique France, not Islamic Relief France.

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Follow all of AP’s stories on the global pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.