U.N. Staffer Brings Coronavirus to South Sudan

A man washes his hands to curb the spread of the new coronavirus in Juba, South Sudan, Monday, April 6, 2020. South Sudan on Sunday announced its first case of COVID-19, making it the 51st of Africa's 54 countries to report the disease. (AP Photo)
AP Photo

South Sudan’s first confirmed case of coronavirus infection was identified on Sunday as a 29-year-old Dutch woman who works for the United Nations. Local and U.N. officials said they were attempting to track down everyone she came in contact with during her five weeks in the country.

The chief of the U.N. mission to South Sudan, David Shearer, said 150 people who arrived on the last flights into Juba International Airport two weeks ago were placed in quarantine, with “several dozen” still isolated as a precaution, although none of them have displayed symptoms of the disease.

President Salva Kiir imposed a curfew in South Sudan last week and closed many venues that typically attract large crowds, including churches and mosques. According to Vice President Riek Machar, South Sudan has 11 million residents but only four ventilators at present. The country also has several crowded and unhealthy refugee camps with thousands of inhabitants left over from the long Sudanese civil war.

The infected woman checked into a U.N. clinic with a fever, cough, headache, and shortness of breath on April 2 and has tested positive for coronavirus twice. She reportedly arrived in South Sudan from Ethiopia on February 28. 

Ethiopia reported its first coronavirus death on Sunday and currently has 43 total cases, most of them described as travelers who contracted the disease beyond Ethiopia’s borders. With a case logged in South Sudan, only three African nations are purportedly free of the coronavirus: Lesotho, Comoros, and Sao Tome.

The United Nations has been criticized in the past for spreading diseases through its missions, most notoriously in Haiti, where a cholera epidemic imported by U.N. peacekeepers killed thousands of people a decade ago. The U.N. staunchly denied culpability for years, but then formally admitted its role in the cholera outbreak in 2016, without taking full responsibility or accepting legal liability.

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