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Australians stranded in Peru, Argentina and South Africa amid the coronavirus crisis will be brought home on a series of Qantas flights over the next week, the Federal Government has announced.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said 280 Australians had already left Peru on a previously arranged flight.© Provided by ABC Health The Government is working to ensure Qantas is given the necessary clearances to fly. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)
She said an agreement had been struck between the Federal Government and Qantas to fly Australians stuck in the three countries home.
Pictures: Life under coronavirus lockdown around the world
"The Australian Government is also assisting by ensuring that these flights have the necessary clearances and approvals in countries where Australian airlines normally don't fly," she said.
"Some of this is new for Qantas so we are assisting with that process."
Thousands of Australians remain overseas, and many have found themselves stuck in countries that have locked down their borders and imposed tough internal travel restrictions due to the pandemic.
The Federal Government has been negotiating access to those countries, after pleas for assistance from Australian citizens.
Senator Payne said moves were underway to lock in further flights to Australia, including from India and the Philippines.
A flight left Santiago in Chile this morning after picking up Australians from Peru, at the cost of $2,550 per person.
Senator Payne said Australians would be expected to pay for a seat on the three confirmed Qantas flights, but emergency assistance would be available.
"Australians are paying for those tickets themselves, where there is a great difficulty or a real difficulty for Australians to afford those flights, we have of course encouraged them to engage with friends, engage with family," she said.
"We also do have provision for traveller emergency loans."
Senator Payne said moves were underway to lock in further flights to Australia, including from India and the Philippines.
"We have ambassadors in places like Cambodia and Lebanon who have negotiated or are negotiating with airlines in relation to commercial flights to enable those to occur," she said.
Senator Payne said the Federal Government had worked with Qantas and Virgin to establish a network between the major transport hubs of Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong and Auckland across the next four weeks.
The past few weeks have not been easy for Nico Jacobs, founder of Rhino 911, a nonprofit that provides emergency helicopter transport for rhinoceroses in need of rescue in South Africa. That’s because times are much worse for the rhinos.
Since South Africa announced a national lockdown on March 23 to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, Mr. Jacobs has had to respond to a rhino poaching incident nearly every day. On March 25, he rescued a 2-month-old white rhino calf whose mother had been killed by poachers. The next day he was called to rescue two black rhinos whose horns had been hacked off by poachers. When he finally tracked them down it was too late — both were dead.
“Just as soon as the lockdown hit South Africa, we started having an incursion almost every single day,” Mr. Jacobs said.
At least nine rhinos have been poached in South Africa’s North West province since the lockdown, he said, “and those are just the ones we know about.”
In neighboring Botswana, according to Rhino Conservation Botswana, a nonprofit organization, at least six rhinos have been poached since the country closed its borders to stop the spread of Covid-19. And last week, the country’s government announced that five suspected poachers had been killed by Botswana’s military in two separate incidents.
While poaching is not unusual in Africa — the last decade has seen more than 9,000 rhinos poached — conservationists said the recent incidents in Botswana and South Africa were unusual because they occurred in tourism hot spots that, until now, were considered relatively safe havens for wildlife.
National lockdowns, border closures, emergency visa restrictions, quarantines and other measures put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus have severely constricted Africa’s $39 billion tourism industry. That business motivates and funds wildlife conservation across the continent, leading some experts to fear that threatened and endangered animals may become additional casualties of the pandemic.
“These animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by tourist presence,” said Tim Davenport, who directs species conservation programs for Africa at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “If you’re a poacher, you’re not going to go to a place where there are lots of tourists, you’re going to go to a place where there are very few of them.”
During this time of year, Africa’s national parks, conservancies and private game reserves should be teeming with tourists and trophy hunters. But thanks to border closures and crackdowns on international travel, foreigners couldn’t visit these places even if they wanted to.
“It’s very unfortunate,” said Anthony Ntalamo, owner of Tony Mobile Safari, a Botswana-based safari company, who was expecting more than 150 customers in the months to come.
In places like the Okavango Delta and Kruger National Park, where lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, elephants and Cape buffalo are on full display, tourists, hunters and the guides they hire to lead their expeditions have a far greater presence than law enforcement.
Without them, the task of monitoring millions of acres of remote and unforgiving wilderness rests solely on the shoulders of a few thousand rangers.
“Without the tour guides, the rangers are like somebody moving without one leg,” Mr. Ntalamo said.
Nearly all of Mr. Ntalamo’s clients have canceled their upcoming trips. Unless things turn around, he may soon have no choice but to put his 12 employees on unpaid leave.
“People are being laid off in the tourism industry by the dozens in Africa at the moment,” said Andrew Campbell, the chief executive of Game Rangers’ Association of Africa. “All these things are happening because, without tourists, there is no money.”
Rangers and private game guards could be next.
South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya and other African countries rely on tourism to fund wildlife conservation. In South Africa, for example, about 85 percent of 2018 funding for the country’s wildlife and public lands management authority, South Africa National Parks, came from tourism-related sources, such as park entry fees and trophy hunting permits.
Without that revenue, many parks, private reserves and community conservancies may not be able to pay employees.
Lynne MacTavish, the operations manager at Mankwe Wildlife Reserve in South Africa’s North West province, is doing everything she can to avoid such a scenario. Her 4,750-hectare reserve should be crawling with visiting researchers and tourists. But since the coronavirus arrived, it’s just been her and a skeleton crew.
“We’re in a situation of zero income, and our expenses are actually going up all the time just trying to fight off the poachers and protect the reserve,” Ms. MacTavish said. “To say it’s desperate is an understatement. We’re really in crisis here.”
To avoid layoffs, Ms. MacTavish has stopped collecting a salary and has cut the pay of her fellow managers by 30 percent. But that will only keep the reserve above water for another three or four months. If things don’t improve, she may be forced to make difficult decisions.
“Our staff is made up of people from all parts of Southern Africa, and collectively they are supporting 131 dependents. Many of these dependents are from Malawi and Zimbabwe and other countries facing starvation,” Ms. MacTavish said. “They rely heavily on us in order to feed their families, and we can’t just turn our back on them.”
If the economic situation doesn’t improve, Ms. MacTavish expects to see more poaching in the coming months. “We’ve had a few incursions recently, but I’m expecting an onslaught if this lockdown carries on for months on end.”
Map Ives, the director of Rhino Conservation Botswana, shares her fears.
“We can expect not only poaching of rhinoceros and elephant and other iconic animals, but we can also expect a spike in bushmeat poaching across the continent,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of people that are not earning a living and they will turn on the natural world and you cannot blame them. These are hungry people.”
In the hopes of alleviating the situation, the Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based environmental organization, recently began raising money for cash-strapped parks, conservancies and private reserves in Africa that need help paying rangers and guards.
While the full impact of the coronavirus on Africa’s wildlife remains to be seen, the events of the past two weeks illustrate the risks of relying too heavily on tourism to support conservation.
Catherine Semcer, a research fellow with the Property and Environment Research Center in North Carolina, believes the only way to prevent this from happening again is to diversify the sources of revenue that support wildlife conservation.
“We don’t want to decouple conservation from tourism, but I think we need to expand the range of sectors that support it,” she said.
Until this happens, Africa’s wildlife will remain in jeopardy and conservationists like Mr. Jacobs will continue getting calls about orphaned baby rhinos.
“If I get called out 10 times a day, I’m going to fly 10 times a day. I’ll fly as long as the finances can hold it,” he said.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to surge around the world, countries looking to flatten the curve have opted to implement nationwide lockdowns in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. South Africa has not been an exception and the results of the lockdown thus far illustrate a positive correlation between the lockdown and curbing the spread of the virus. This is shown in Figure 1 below which shows that with the lockdown in place South Africa has managed to reduce the average daily increase of Covid-19 cases from 23.2% prior to the lockdown to 7% during the lockdown.© Provided by Daily Maverick
Figure 2 provides a clearer picture of the impact that South Africa’s lockdown has had on the spread of the virus. It shows that since the implementation of the lockdown South Africa has been reporting fewer Covid-19 cases per day. This is shown by the variations in the spread of the virus prior and during the lockdown with the latter visually illustrating a decline in the spread of the virus.© Provided by Daily Maverick
Data obtained from the African Union and updated as of 7 April 2020.
However, these variations are likely to escalate in coming days as 80% of the confirmed cases thus far have been from the private health sector which is better equipped to conduct tests, as illustrated by Figure 3. This suggests that the majority of the tests have been conducted on middle-class people who can afford private lab tests, excluding some 84% of public healthcare patients without medical aid who are at a disadvantage.© Provided by Daily Maverick
Business Live, 2 April 2020.
In response to this, government has deployed 67 mobile units and drive-through testing centres to bridge the gap between private and public healthcare testing. It is projected that these measures will enable the country to test around 30,000 people a day and provide a clear picture of the “actual” spread of the virus.
Although the lockdown has seemingly slowed the infection rate in South Africa, its greater population and health care system remain at high risk. South Africa remains highly burdened by tuberculosis (TB), with 68,000 people dying from the disease in 2018 alone. This infection rate is among the worst in the world. This will undoubtedly complicate the way in which the health system must attempt to deal with Covid-19.
TB patients, especially those who are undiagnosed or in early treatment for the illness, may be at a high risk of contracting more severe responses to Covid-19 if they become infected.
What’s worse is the symptoms commonly associated with TB (cough, fever, difficulty breathing) overlap with Covid-19, which could make it difficult for health workers to distinguish between the two. Alongside the risk of TB are those 7.7 million currently infected with HIV in South Africa, some of whom are co-infected with HIV and TB.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, there are a number of underlying conditions which have been identified in individuals who have experienced more severe cases of Covid-19. Some of these conditions include asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, severe obesity and immune-compromised individuals due to smoking, cancer treatment or poorly controlled HIV/AIDS treatment. The data remains limited on who may be most at risk at this stage in the pandemic, but clinical experts and data from the most severely affected populations identified the groups mentioned above.© Provided by Daily Maverick
The figure above indicates what percentage of Africans between 30 and 70 years old died in 2016 from cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease (CRD). This is compared against the number of Covid-19 cases as of 7 April 2020. South Africans are the most at risk of dying of these diseases compared to the rest of the continent.
Diet and lifestyle play an important role in the onset of these diseases and according to the WHO, individuals with underlying conditions such as these are more likely to experience the more severe consequences of Covid-19. TB patients, especially those who are undiagnosed or in early treatment for the illness may be at a high risk of contracting more severe responses to Covid-19 if they become infected. DM
Marcus Hollington is research director at Focal Africa Research. Monique Bennett is a data scientist at Good Governance Africa.