Somalia recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case on March 16, 2020. In early March, the authorities established a COVID-19 response coordination committee led by the Prime Minister and, in coordination with the WHO and the UN, the Ministry of Health has taken measures to contain the spread of the outbreak and to strengthen health systems. These include restricting large meetings and gatherings; closing schools and universities; closing borders suspending international and domestic flights; and intensifying communication through various channels including radio, TV, and social media. As of April 15, 2020, they imposed an evening curfew. As Somalia was ill-prepared to cope with any significant outbreak, Somalia’s partners and the Ministry of Health have launched a Country Preparedness and Response Plan (CPRP) to address the immediate humanitarian and socio-economic consequences. These efforts focused on averting large-scale community spread through risk communication; testing; contact tracing; distribution of PPE to health workers; undertaking measures to mitigate risks to Internally Displaced Populations, refugees, asylum seekers and host communities; and minimizing risks at detention facilities.
Reopening of the economy. During the summer of 2020, the Somali authorities have implemented a phased approach to reopening the economy. Domestic and international flights resumed on July 5 and August 3, respectively, and public schools reopened on August 15.
Second wave. A second, more virulent wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has started in February 2021. In February alone, 2473 new cases and 109 deaths were reported compared with 70 and zero, respectively in January. The positivity rate has increased to about 10 percent in February from less than one percent in January. Health experts suspect that new Covid-19 variants, and recent large political and religious gathering could be the root causes of new infections.
In response, the authorities reintroduced new (stringent) containment measures in March 2021, including (but not limited to): (1) Reintroduction of work-from-home for government workers, with the exception of essential workers; (2) closure of schools and universities for two weeks (starting on February 23); (3) suspension of passport applications until further notice; (4) mandatory facemask in all public spaces; (5) suspension of public gathering and at least a 2-meter social distance to be observed by people attending permitted meetings; but this measure is drawing criticisms from the opposition citing the use of restrictions to stop planned protests; (6) travelers should show negative PCR test result (within 72 hours of travel) and should observe (8 to 14 days) quarantine upon arrival; and (7) weddings and special parties are suspended and sports arenas and gyms have been closed.
Despite these measures, by May 27, 2021, the country reported 14,632 cases of COVID-19 infections, 767 deaths, and 6,685 recoveries. Puntland continues to dominate the 14-day average new infections having registered an average of 52 new infections over the last two weeks of May. Somaliland region is the second most impacted with 849 new cases while Benadir region, the most populated region in Somalia, is third having registered 348 cases since 1st April 2021. In the last two weeks of May, Somaliland and Benadir region registered an average of 29 and 6 new cases, respectively.
Between May 20-27, Somalia has registered only 57 new COVD-19 infections, signaling a slowdown in the second wave. Despite this registered slowdown, experts have warned that Somalia has a poor testing rate. So far, just 156,000 tests have been performed in a country of more than 15 million people. Therefore, gauging the severity of the outbreak through official data is remains unreliable, while information on any new variants is almost non-existent. In addition, the lack of healthcare coverage and an absence of documentation means that the actual death toll could be much higher than the figures reported, particularly since most sick people are cared for at home, and the deceased are typically buried according to Islamic tradition within 24 hours.
Immunization drive. On December 2020, the Somalia authorities applied for the COVAX support, and a National Coordinating Committee (NCC) for the COVID-19 vaccine introduction was set up in coordination with UNICEF and WHO. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) supports the procurement of vaccines for 20 percent of the population in the first phase and the World Bank will support the procurement for the remainder of the population in the subsequent phase. Somalia is expected to receive 1.4 million doses of the vaccine under the COVAX facility this month.
On 15 March 2021, Somalia received 300,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, being the first batch of the anticipated 1.2 million doses under the WHO COVAX program. Given that the COVAX vaccine only covers 20 percent of the population, the government has reached out to donor partners seeking financing to cover the remaining 80 percent of the population and the anticipated vaccine rollout operational and administrative costs. On March 21 the vaccination exercise was rolled out in Galmudug, South West State and Hirshabelle simultaneously, while in Puntland and Somaliland the exercise commenced on 24 and 27 March, respectively. On 11 April 2021, the Chinese government delivered to Somalia a further 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine expected to benefit a further 100,000 people.
Given that the COVAX vaccine only covers 20% of the population, the government has reached out to donor partners seeking financing to cover the remaining 80% of the population and the anticipated vaccine rollout operational and administrative costs. The Somalia government has started mobilizing resources to cover an initial urgent need of USD 560,000 for the first dose administration operational costs. Plans on how to finance the vaccination of the remaining 80% of the population have also commenced with GAVI establishing a mechanism that allows for cost-sharing among donor partners. In addition, the World Bank is working towards the approval of a USD 20.5 Million facility.
However, the low uptake of the vaccine has been attributed to vaccine hesitancy, which is a concern for the Somalia government and the WHO officials. To date, just over a third of the 300,000 doses delivered by COVAX program have been administered. Mogadishu has only vaccinated 22 percent of the target population, Puntland 35 percent, Jubaland 18 percent, South West state 11 percent Galmudug 34 percent and Hirshabelle 35 percent.