The Democratic Republic of Congo has lifted the nationwide state of emergency that was declared in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus, after seeing a slowdown in the number of new infections and deaths. 

Commercial activities resumed Wednesday with banks, restaurants, and bars allowed to reopen while social gatherings and public transport also resumed, President Félix Tshisekedi said, in a phased reopening of the country that had shut its national borders as well.

“The death rate has dropped from 11 percent to 2.4 percent. The mortality rate is on a decline this month of July,” the President Tshisekedi was quoted as saying by The EastAfrican. As of 2 am (WAT) Friday, DRC had recorded a total of 8,720 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 201 deaths and 5,105 recoveries. Only 14 out of the country’s 26 provinces have reported cases.

Schools are to reopen from August 3, starting with learners in the final year of studies across all levels of education – primary, secondary, colleges, and universities. Reopening of places of worship, stadiums, performance halls including discotheques is expected to follow from August 15 but burial ceremonies remain prohibited. Interprovincial and international travel restrictions will end on the same day, with the reopening of ports of entry.

The DRC will relearn how to carry on with normal life “while respecting the containment measures,” the Tshisekedi said, urging citizens to observe social distancing, washing and sanitizing of hands, compulsory wearing of masks in public places and regular disinfecting of places of activity.

The leader also praised the efforts of the Covid-19 response team, despite the exit of Dr. Denis Mukwege, a famed Congolese medic. The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner resigned from the special Commission for fighting Covid-19 in South Kivu, citing lack of facilitation from the government and of laboratories for testing for the virus, which had frustrated the team’s work.

After a relatively slow spread in Africa, cases in the region have soared to more than 770,000 with over 1,000 deaths, according to data available on the Africa CDC website. South Africa leads the continent with over 408,000 infections. Globally, there are more than 15 million people infected and over 600,000 casualties.

The World Health Organization expects widespread vaccination to commence mid-2021 while the African Union Commission has a consortium for COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial, which was launched earlier this month.

As the government reopens its economy, DRC will have to strictly implement safety measures to avoid a likely resurgence of the virus, experts say. They also warn that some places where the disease had been brought under control are now seeing an uptick in cases, leading to renewed lockdowns and tough restrictions on public life and travel.

Countries that have eased lockdown restrictions have a high chance of seeing a second wave of the virus, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned, adding that too many countries were headed in the wrong direction, which could worsen the pandemic.

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