DR Congo ends virus health emergency, borders to reopen
DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has lifted a health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak and ordered a reopening in three stages of business activities, schools and borders.
The vast country of more than 80 million people has recorded 8,534 infections including 196 deaths since March 10.
Tshisekedi said the figures place the Democratic Republic of Congo as ninth worst-hit country in Africa in terms of the number of cases and 12th in terms of deaths, "putting paid to all catastrophic forecasts for our country at the start of the epidemic."
Tshisekedi's government proclaimed a health emergency on March 24 in which borders were closed, as well as schools, bars and restaurants.
In a televised speech late on Tuesday, the president announced an end to the emergency.
He said that from Wednesday all shops, banks, restaurants and bars would be allowed to reopen, public transport could resume and large gatherings would be permitted.
Schools and universities can reopen on August 3, and airports, ports, borders and places of worship on August 15.
But he warned that "the end of the state of emergency does not mean the end of the COVID-19 epidemic in our country," reminding citizens to wear masks in public and wash their hands frequently.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday accused the government of restricting freedoms on the pretext of fighting coronavirus, advising President Tshisekedi to "reverse course and stop this mounting repression".
The rights watchdog said in a report that it had documented at least 39 cases of threats and harassment linked to free speech and media freedom in half of the country's 26 provinces.
The government banned three demonstrations this month against the choice of a new election chief.
Security forces used tear gas to disperse protestors defying the ban in several cities, and five people were killed in clashes between demonstrators and police.
"Congolese authorities have cracked down on peaceful critics, journalists, and political party members, while using state of emergency measures imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to curb political protests," it said.