Conflict-ridden Guinea in uphill struggle against coronavirus

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Far from pulling together in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Guineans remain embittered by a deadly, months-long political crisis, hampering efforts to contain the virus in the poor West African state.

“The government banning something is all it takes for the people to reject it,” said Hamidou Traore, a doctor at the capital Conakry’s biggest hospital.

Mass demonstrations broke out in Guinea last October over suspicions that President Alpha Conde was planning constitutional changes that would allow him to extend his long rule.

Dozens were killed, and deep distrust in the government persists.

Guinea, one of the world’s poorest countries, is among the hardest hit in the region by the pandemic, which has so far infected some 1,500 and killed seven.

The former French colony can little afford the political malaise in addition to a sorely deficient health system, with Guinea’s main hospital, under renovation for the past four years, having to reopen suddenly at the onset of the pandemic.

And yet Guinea has first-hand experience with infectious diseases, having been ravaged by Ebola between late 2013 and 2016. More than 2,500 people died of the hemorrhagic fever.

Despite still raw memories of that epidemic, Guineans are loath to comply with restrictions urged by Conde and his government.

Grinding poverty, the need to go outdoors to make a living, and sheer fatalism add to the defiance.

The government has imposed a nighttime curfew, closed Guinea’s borders, banned gatherings and made mask-wearing compulsory.

In Conakry, Fatoumata Mbo has seven workers turning out coloured masks in the stifling heat of her sewing shop, one of hundreds in the city. “I get lots of orders (from) businesses and charities,” the young woman said.

As during the Ebola epidemic, buckets of water have reappeared in the streets to encourage hand-washing — a minimum of hygiene.

But compliance is spotty. Social distancing is “practically foreign to our culture,” said sociologist Alpha Amadou Bano Barry.

Conde meanwhile has announced a 243 million euro ($267 million) plan to shore up the economy and to help those most in need. (AFP)

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