As richer countries race to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, Somalia remains the rare place where much of the population hasn't taken the coronavirus seriously. Some fear that's proven to be deadlier than anyone knows. "Certainly our people don’t use any form of protective measures, neither masks nor social distancing," Abdirizak Yusuf Hirabeh, the government’s COVID-19 incident manager, said in Mogadishu. "If you move around the city or countrywide, nobody even talks about it." Yet infections are rising, he said. It is places like Somalia, the Horn of Africa nation torn apart by three decades of conflict, that will be last to see COVID-19 vaccines in any significant quantity, the AP reports. With part of the country still held by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, the risk of the virus becoming endemic in hard-to-reach areas is strong—a fear for parts of Africa. And getting people to accept the vaccines will take time, "just the same as what it took for our people to believe in the polio or measles vaccines," a doctor said.
Neither facilities nor equipment are adequate in Somalia to tackle the virus, Hirabeh acknowledged. Fewer than 27,000 coronavirus tests have been conducted in the nation of 15 million, one of the lowest rates in the world. Fewer than 4,800 cases have been confirmed, including at least 130 deaths. Some worry the virus will sink into the population as yet another poorly diagnosed but deadly fever. For Hassan Mohamed Yusuf, 45, a street beggar, that fear has turned into near-certainty. "In the beginning we saw this virus as just another form of the flu," he said. Then three of his young children died after developing a cough and high fever. As residents of a makeshift camp for displaced people, they had no access to testing or care. And the virus hurt his efforts to find money to treat his family, Yusuf said: "We can’t get close enough" to people to beg. Early on, the government took steps, closing schools and shutting down flights. But social distancing has disappeared in public spaces. On Thursday, some 30,000 people crammed into a Mogadishu stadium for a football match with no face masks or other anti-virus measures in sight.
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