The coronavirus has now claimed the lives of 32 lawmakers in the Democratic Republic of Congo — more than 5 percent of its Parliament — the authorities say, a reflection of how the coronavirus continues to pose a widespread threat in some parts of the world even as others increasingly resume pre-pandemic behavior.
The toll of the outbreak in Congo is also rising as the country struggles to roll out Covid-19 vaccines, fight off other deadly diseases and grapple with the eruption of one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes.
“This pandemic is raging — decimating thousands of human lives and exploding in the process the rate of morbidity,” Jean-Marc Kabund, the first vice president of Parliament’s lower house, told lawmakers last week.
Congo — Africa’s second-largest country, with a population of more than 86 million — has reported over 31,000 coronavirus cases and 786 deaths, although those numbers probably vastly underestimate the scale of the outbreak because testing levels remain low nationwide.
The central African state has also struggled with its vaccination campaign. In early March, it received 1.7 million AstraZeneca shots from Covax, the global vaccine-sharing partnership. But the authorities delayed delivering the shots until mid-April after several European countries suspended their use because of very rare blood clots observed in small numbers of people who had received them.
By early May, fearing that the doses would expire before they could be used domestically, Congo announced the reallocation of 1.3 million of them to five other African countries.
As of Friday, more than 23,000 people — most of them in Kinshasa, the capital — had been vaccinated, according to the health ministry.
Along with concerns about the rare blood clots, vaccine hesitancy has been fueled by misinformation spread on social media, longstanding suspicion in government systems and a belief that diseases like Ebola and measles constitute more of a threat than Covid.
Last month, the United Nations Children Fund warned of a resurgence in other deadly diseases, including measles, polio and yellow fever, as parents remained reluctant to take their children to health centers for fear of exposure to Covid-19.
All of this comes as tens of thousands of people have fled the eastern city of Goma after the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, several African leaders have succumbed to the coronavirus. In the Republic of Congo, the opposition presidential candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas died of Covid-19 in March just hours after voting ended. Abbay Kyari, a former chief of staff to Nigeria’s president, and the South African minister Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu both died of complications related to Covid-19.