The Covid ward in Niamey, Niger’s desert capital, has been empty for months, says Benoit Faucon in The Wall Street Journal. Hastily erected isolation facilities are “gathering dust” and masks are “almost unheard of”. Days go by without a single person testing positive, and demand for vaccines is so low that the government has sent thousands of doses abroad. At Le Pilier, a restaurant popular with rich locals and expats, Italian owner Vittorio Gioni says business dived in the spring of 2020, but quickly recovered. One of his regulars is the oil minister, Sani Issoufou. “Here, we still live like it’s 2019,” he says with a smile.
This vast west African nation was once identified by the WHO as one of the most vulnerable to the coronavirus on a continent where the UN predicted millions of deaths. Instead, Niger is “the land that Covid somehow forgot”, thanks to a hot, dry climate and the world’s youngest population – half of its citizens are under 15. Policy has also played its part: the authorities locked down, banned communal prayer in mosques and closed borders months before nations like the UK started to restrict international travel. “The coronavirus arrived, but it never prospered,” says President Mohamed Bazoum. “We killed a fly with a hammer.”
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