West Africa makes face mask use compulsory


In March 2020, the visual landscape in West Africa changed as people started wearing face masks in public places, especially those living in urban areas. As of early April, many West African countries made it mandatory for people to wear non-medical cloth masks whenever they went outside. Benin was the first African country to introduce a “cordon sanitaire” policy on 8 April, which mandated face mask use in public in twelve areas, including the cities of Cotonou and Porto-Novo. Côte d’Ivoire is enforcing mask wearing, in particular in shopping malls and supermarkets in the Abidjan area. Similarly, Nigeria made face mask use compulsory in Lagos State. The megacity has quickly become a fashion hub for masks made from African fabric. As part of the “One Malian, one mask” programme, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced an order of 20 million locally produced, washable masks. In Cabo Verde, several initiatives have been launched with the goal of distributing free masks to vulnerable people. Subsidised masks sold in pharmacies cost, on average, about 200 CFA francs per mask (0.3 EUR). This is still too expensive for most consumers in West Africa and masks are not always available. Some local social welfare organisations in  Gambia are planning to distribute free masks to urban dwellers on a large-scale, targeting workers in the informal sector. Moreover, many local authorities lack the ability to enforce these generalised mask-wearing orders. In May 2020, Burkina Faso increased police controls in Ouagadougou. According to a new regulation in Chad, individuals who fail to wear a mask in public will have to pay a fine of 2 000 CFA francs (3 EUR) and could be imprisoned for up to 15 days. While the level of protection provided by different types of masks remains a subject of debate, medical face masks have played a vital role in COVID-19 prevention and control efforts in East Asia. However, such masks are generally scarce in West Africa. 


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