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Coronavirus spreads into shantytowns, Africa under pressure

The coronavirus pandemic has begun spreading into some of Africa’s most impoverished communities, leaving the continent facing a huge test: whether it can contain the virus in overcrowded settlements where water and sanitation are scarce.

Slowing the expansion of the virus is crucial because many African countries have severe shortages of ventilators and intensive-care beds. But government responses have been erratic, ranging from ambitious new mobile testing programs to more extreme measures, including curfews and crackdowns by security forces that have led to deadly abuses.

South Africa, which has more confirmed COVID-19 cases than any other African country, announced this week that the virus had spread into several of its poorest communities:

At least eight cases have been confirmed in those informal settlements, where distancing is difficult because many people live in crowded shacks, often lacking a piped water supply, often with eight or 10 people in a house, unable to isolate themselves because their income depends on daily work.

Areas of most concern include: the townships of Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain, on the edge of Cape Town, along with Soweto and Alexandra townships in Johannesburg.

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