Dozens of Ivorian citizens were confined to a university campus in Abidjan after their return from France in a bid by the Ivorian government to avoid the spread of coronavirus in the Ivory Coast. The confinement only lasted 24 hours, however, before it was abandoned amidst a wave of complaints and criticism. Travellers complained that exceptions were being made for VIPs and their families, that they had no access to medical staff and that the campus lacked even the most basic supplies.
Three Air France flights brought several hundred Ivorians from France back to the Ivory Coast on March 17. Because France has been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ivorian government announced on March 16 that travellers from France would be placed in quarantine for 14 days to make sure that they were not contagious.
"There wasn’t even soap to wash our hands”
Our Observer Fatou G. is an Ivorian shopkeeper who returned from a vacation in France with her husband on March 17. The pair were put into quarantine that evening and, according to Fatou, it was extremely poorly managed. Though she wanted to remain anonymous, she also wanted to speak out about what happened to them.
I was in France for what was supposed to be a 15-day visit. My husband and I flew into France on March 9, but we decided to cut our trip short and fly back to the Ivory Coast on March 17. We knew that the government would put us in quarantine upon our arrival before we even got on the plane.
When we arrived in Abidjan at 8pm, people were supposed to take our temperatures using forehead thermometers. But every time they tried, an error message would flash up on the thermometer so, in the end, no one took my temperature. Then, they confiscated our passports and brought us by bus to the campus of the National Institute for Youth and Sports (INJS, or L'Institut national de la jeunesse et des sports).
The woman who posted this video was one of the Ivorian travellers who were placed into quarantine upon their return from France. Her video shows the group being taken away from the airport in a bus.
That’s when I realized that about three-fourths of the passengers from the three planes had already gone home, including several VIPs and their families, including the family of the singer Asalfo.
When we got to the campus of the INJS, volunteers from the Red Cross were on hand to show us to the university dorms where we would be sleeping. But absolutely no health and safety measures were being taken. There were no masks and we were not being kept a safe distance apart. There were no medical staff on hand to examine us. There wasn’t even soap in the bathrooms so we could wash our hands.
These three photos taken by our Observer show the university dorms where travellers were supposed to sleep as well as the meals that were provided. She told us that the rooms had not been cleaned and there was no soap on hand. After seeing the meals provided, our Observer, along with many of the other people in quarantine, ended up asking family members to bring food and leave it at the entrance.
All of that considering that we had all been confined together in the airplanes with absolutely no measures being taken to prevent or limit contamination.
Our Observer said she counted about 200 people on the INJS campus. We were not able to verify this number independently.
It was extremely tense when we were all confined on campus. People found the situation both absurd and unfair as members of the so-called elite were able to go home without undergoing a medical check.
Our Observer filmed this video of several people trying to force open the door of the INJS.
The teenager on the ground in this photo had a panic attack during quarantine.“We called emergency services to get a doctor on site but no one came, so eventually a woman volunteered to get close and help her do some breathing exercises,” our Observer said.
"We were squished together to listen to the minister”
Finally, the next day, the Minister of Health [Editor’s note: Eugène Aka Aouélé] came to the campus and said we could all go home.
Once again, we saw that the officials weren’t taking any health and safety precautions. We were all squished together to listen to the minister and even the minister himself was standing really close to us. If one of us was actually carrying the virus at that point, then lots of us would have surely picked it up.
In this video live streamed by the famous pastor the Reverend Wilfrid Zahui, he addresses the group of people in quarantine without taking any precautions to maintain a safe distance.
After 24 hours, I was finally able to go home. However, I’m a lot more nervous now because I’m afraid that I was infected at the INJS or on the plane. They took our numbers but I doubt that the government will actually carry out a serious medical follow up or that all of the travellers will self-isolate.
"It’s a virus that affects everyone, not just white people”
I think that the Ivorian population is not aware of the danger. On the campus, we saw the policemen who were guarding the entrances take the phones of Chinese nationals in quarantine. When I was heading home, I saw lots of people outside who weren’t keeping a safe distance from one another.
We need to wake up and make Ivorians understand that this is a virus that affects everyone, not just white people.
On March 19, the Ivorian government announced a new plan to combat coronavirus. The National Institute for Youth and Sports will now be used as a transit centre where travellers from countries with high infection rates will undergo medical exams. If they don’t have symptoms, then they will be asked to self quarantine at home for 14 days. If they do show symptoms, then they will be transferred to a medical centre.
On March 20, France reported 10,995 cases of coronavirus and 372 deaths. So far, nine cases have been reported in the Ivory Coast.
The France 24 Observers team contacted the Health Minister for an interview. We will update this article with the response when we receive it.
Article by Liselotte Mas