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Living in Africa during the COVID-19 Pandemic
It’s been two days since I returned from living two and a half months in South Africa. Last week, I made a decision to cut my trip short and fly home early. I took the first flight out of the country and back to Texas after the COVID-19 situation began to escalate there.

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Living in Africa during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Megan Marie

In
It’s been two days since I returned from living two and a half months in South Africa. Last week, I made a decision to cut my trip short and fly home early. I took the first flight out of the country and back to Texas after the COVID-19 situation began to escalate there.

I took the first flight out of the country and back to Texas after the COVID-19 situation began to escalate there.

It’s been two days since I returned from living two and a half months in South Africa. Last week, I made a decision to cut my trip short and fly home early. I took the first flight out of the country and back to Texas after the COVID-19 situation began to escalate there.

I was fortunate enough to have spent the beginning of 2020 far from the epicenter of the virus as it escalated. As panic made its way into Africa however, it was only a matter of time before the country began implementing measures to protect its people like the rest of the world.

The outbreak brings so much uncertainty to many communities all over the world. Like many others, I want to share my experience living in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Beginning

Fortunately, the majority of the African continent remained untouched while the COVID-19 pandemic escalated elsewhere. I began to notice countries increasing their health and safety measures towards travelers and tourists in February.

I took a trip to Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe in early February. At the time, there was little to no word of Coronavirus in Africa. However, we were required to fill out extensive health forms, had our temperatures taken, and could not enter the customs building until we sanitized our hands properly. Today, this is standard practice, but at the time, it felt like these were extraordinary measures when the virus had not even penetrated the continent yet.

To be fair, these countries were closely monitoring the pandemic and understood the consequences an outbreak could have on their country, people and economy. I’m proud of Africa for taking extreme measures so early on.

The Potential Effects of COVID-19 on South Africa

Yesterday, the President of South Africa announced new measures be put into place to prevent a rapid spread of the virus. The country will be going into lock-down starting Thursday, March 26th for the next twenty one days. You will not be allowed to leave your house unless you need food or medication and the government deployed an army to enforce these new standards.

Like many countries, South Africa saw first-hand how quickly the virus can spread. Last week, COVID-19 made its way for the first time in South Africa and the country saw their cases jump from 1 to over 40. Today, the number of cases is 554, the most of any country in Africa (ABC News).

While I am not a South African citizen, those of us who lived there over the past few months can see how an outbreak like this can have negative effects on the country. Here’s my thoughts and opinions on why:

The HIV/AIDS Population

There are a lot of unknowns about the virus, but we do know that individuals who have existing health issues or are elderly are most at risk. That said, the first thought that came to mind was the HIV/AIDS population in South Africa. Nearly one fourth of South Africans have HIV/AIDS and the country has the largest HIV epidemic in the world, consuming nearly 20% of the general population (VeryWellHealth.com).

Lack of Running Water

South Africa is unfortunately still living with the effects of the apartheid, which was a system of racial segregation that ended in 1994. Now, nearly 24% of the population live in townships, a densely populated area the government forced certain individuals to relocate to during the apartheid (SA Treasury). In addition, more than half of South Africa’s population live in poverty, at 55% to be exact (Africacheck.org). Under these conditions, you can see how access to running water and soap may be an issue.

An outbreak in a community like this can rapidly spread and be devastating. I would hate to see what’s happening in Europe hit Africa. We can only hope that everyone is doing their due-diligence to quarantine and practice good hygiene.

My Journey Home

The days prior to my return felt like an eternity and hours felt like days. South Africa itself was functioning as normal however. I could go to the gym, grab a coffee to-go at the local cafe and dine at all of my favorite restaurants. It felt strange seeing things function normally when family and friends in the U.S. and Europe were so worried. However, I am thankful to have left when I did, seeing that the country will be going into lock-down on Thursday.

We know now that this pandemic escalates exponentially. Countries are shutting down borders and airlines are cancelling flights. You can see how trying to fly home from half-way around the world felt so unsettling.

After the President of South Africa addressed the situation last Sunday and indicated new measures be put in place, I called Delta Airlines and booked the first flight back to the U.S. Due to the exponential rise in passengers wanting to get home and airlines losing money due to flight restrictions, the earliest they could get me home was Thursday night. All of the flights out of Africa back to the U.S. were completely full, most likely with other individuals trying to make it back before another unplanned border shut-down or flight cancellation commenced.

Eventually, Thursday came around and everything went smoothly. On my flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta however, the pilot announced an unplanned stop in Orlando, Florida due to the plane having more passengers and less fuel than originally anticipated.

That was one of two things that affected my flight home and helped me visualize how this virus is effecting businesses, economies and industries all over the world. The second was that after missing my first flight back to Austin due to the unplanned stop, the next two flights were cancelled because there were not enough passengers on the plane. I eventually made it home after an exhausting 35+ hours of travel. I will be quarantining here in Austin for at least two weeks before seeing my friends and family.

Reflecting on the Situation

It’s unbelievable to see how this pandemic is affecting communities, businesses, and economies all over the world. I don’t think there is an industry or country unaffected by this pandemic. The least we can do is our due-diligence to quarantine, practice safe hygiene and support local businesses as much as possible.

Thanks for listening everyone! I know so many people have something to say about the pandemic and I just wanted to share my story. I hope you’re safe and sound with your families or where you feel most comfortable.

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3 Comments

  1. Al Kline

    So happy you made it back home safely! I’m so glad you the foresight to act when you did.

    Dad

    Reply
    • meg_kline@hotmail.com

      Thank you! With so many unknowns, it made most sense to go home where you know you will be safe and taken care of.

      Reply
  2. Sri G

    Great writeup! Good to hear you made it back safely, it must have been stressful.

    Sri

    Reply

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