A man walks in front of the departure gate of the new terminal building at Juba International Airport in Juba, South Sudan, on…
FILE - A man walks in front of the departure gate at Juba International Airport in Juba, South Sudan, Oct. 29, 2018.

JUBA, KHARTOUM - South Sudan is shutting down Juba International Airport and all border entry points to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The head of airport said aviation officials Tuesday canceled all passenger flights from Kenya and Ethiopia scheduled to arrive in Juba.    

A task force of senior government officials chaired by First Vice President Riek Machar met Monday to assess the risks of the pandemic spreading to South Sudan.  

Makur Koryom, undersecretary in the health ministry, said the decision to shut down the airport was made after considering all the ways the virus can reach South Sudan.  

“All international flights destined to and from South Sudan, Juba International Airport, are advised to cease their operations by midnight,” Koryom said.  

Kur Kuol Ajieu, director of Juba International Airport said when the order was issued, he acted immediately to cancel incoming flights.  

“We shut down all operations to South Sudan so there will be no passenger flights to come. We may only allow cargo [planes] but provided that the pilot does not come out. And after we disembark, the plane goes back,” Ajieu said.     

Flights through South Sudan airspace are free to fly so long as they don’t land in the country according to Koryom. A pilot seeking an emergency landing is allowed to do so with the condition passengers remain on the plane.  

All border crossing points with the neighboring countries are closed.  

“Coming to South Sudan or traveling to neighboring countries will cease as of [Monday night] and only cargo buses, food trucks and fuel tankers are allowed,” Koryom told reporters in Juba Tuesday.  

Juba resident Gismala Sebit said the decision to close South Sudan’s borders is for the good of all South Sudanese “because all countries have done the same. I call upon South Sudanese to pay much attention on this issue,” Sebit told South Sudan in Focus. 

FILE - People and luggage are seen outside Juba International Airport, Aug. 4, 2005.

Members of the high-level COVID-19 task force noted that certain government officials who arrived in the country last weekend refused to observe the 14-day self-quarantine directive from President Salva Kiir.  

“The task force therefore appeals to the senior government officials to observe these regulations and instruct the law enforcement agencies to take immediate action to impose these orders,” Koryom said.  

Koryom did not identify to which law enforcement agencies he was referring.  

Sudanese authorities also have suspended all flights in and out of the country to combat the spread of the Coronavirus. Sudan reported its first coronavirus case last Thursday after a 52-year-old Sudanese man who had returned from the United Arab Emirates died. Following the unidentified man’s death, the government shut down universities, colleges and schools and closed most social gathering places for the next month to prevent the spread of the virus.  

Sudan Sovereign Council member and spokesperson Mohamed Al Fekki Suleiman said Monday the government took swift action.  

“The committee decided to shut down all the airports, river ports and all border crossings, with an exception of trips that are for humanitarian and technical support. Other schedule cargo set for earlier,” Fekki told South Sudan in Focus.  

Fekki encouraged citizens to wash their hands with water and soap frequently to stop the spread of the coronavirus.  

The government has set up three quarantine centers in River Nile state that are equipped to receive suspected cases.   

“These measures are precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and call on all citizens to cooperate with our medical and security teams and allow them to perform their official duties,” Fekki said.  

Simon Mogga, a South Sudanese who has accompanied his sick cousin from Juba to Khartoum for further medical treatment for three months, said he was shocked by the decision to suspend flights to neighboring South Sudan.  

“Our treatment is over. Tomorrow we are going for the last visit. But now due to this crisis of corona, all the flights are suspended. And being the head of the family, for a long time being somewhere without the family, there are a lot of challenges which is facing them,” Mogga told South Sudan in Focus.     

Sudanese national Ihlaam Assadiq thinks the government is overreacting, adding that closing the airport will hurt the country’s economy.  

“When you close down the airport, close universities and schools, that will affect the country economically. Where can they get income to the country?” Assadiq told South Sudan in Focus.  

The government has asked public workers to stay home for a minimum of two weeks as the government continues to monitor the situation.