JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - South Sudan's government says it has come up with new strategies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, after the number of confirmed cases there jumped from six to 49.
More testing and tracking will be carried out in the capital, Juba, according to First Vice President Riek Machar, who is deputy chair of the health ministry's high-level task force for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
"We have decided to divide Juba into five zones. There will be testing of 100 samples in each zone. This is a sampling so that the task force is able to know if there are people who are affected, say in Munuki, Kator, inside Juba among other places, so that we are able to know the spread of this disease, especially inside Juba," Machar told VOA's South Sudan in Focus on Monday.
South Sudan has also ordered more ventilators. There are only four ventilators in the entire country, according to Health Minister Elizabeth Acuei Yor.
Another 60 ventilators should arrive later this week, said Makur Matur Koriom, undersecretary in South Sudan's health ministry and a member of the COVID-19 task force. The minister said isolation centers have been set up in all 10 states and some counties.
On a positive note, two COVID-19 patients in South Sudan who recovered from the disease were released from health facilities Monday. One was released from an isolation center in Juba while the other left a facility in Torit.
The United States and various international organizations have donated millions of dollars to support efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in South Sudan and other African countries.
Koriom said that South Sudan's COVID-19 task force has not been on the receiving end of any of that money.
"The millions and millions that you people hear coming from donors doesn't come to the government, not even a single penny. They just put it in the media but they disbursed it to organizations, NGOs, and government doesn't have any say on the way they spend it. They don't even report to the government," he said.
Koriom said the South Sudanese government pledged to give the task force $5.4 million for a six-month operating budget to manage the pandemic. So far, he said, the task force has received $3 million.
Civil society activist Wani Michael, who runs the Okay Africa Foundation, welcomed the government's stepped-up efforts to control the spread of the virus but notes that many South Sudanese still go to crowded markets and attend funerals despite the government's partial lockdown. He said even ministers and other top government officials ignore the directives.
Michael noted that Juba's only major bridge reopened last week after extensive repairs.
"After the repair, we saw the minister of roads and bridges and other government officials mobilizing a very huge crowd," he told SSIF. "That's why some of us are even questioning why are they sentencing ... Abraham Chol when we know for a fact that there are people, even ministers, who violate the presidential order of social distancing," Michael told South Sudan in Focus.
Chol, a self-described prophet, was sentenced last week to a month in jail for violating the government's ban on large gatherings.
The government directives to control COVID-19 include a ban on all prayer services in mosques and churches until further notice.