South Africa

VISUAL ESSAY

Madagascar’s Covid cloud: Public adherence to safety protocols slips as complacency sets in

Street vendor children playing against a backdrop photograph of schoolchildren wearing face masks and adhering to physical distancing. Antananarivo, Madagascar. (Photo: Alexander Joe)

The low prevalence of Covid-19 in Madagascar is impacting its citizens’ willingness to adhere to physical distancing and face mask-wearing regulations. Alexander Joe visually explores changes in Malagasy attitudes in the capital, Antananarivo, over the past 10 months with a collection of composite photographs.

This Face Mask project started last year when the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the globe. As was the case in most countries around the world, the people of Madagascar had to wear masks in all public places and observe physical distancing protocols. President Andry Rajoelina made the order compulsory for citizens in April 2020.

Consequently, no one in Madagascar was permitted to use public transport without wearing a face mask and using hand sanitiser. Those stopped by police for not following the rules were sentenced to on-the-spot community service, usually in the form of sweeping the street and cleaning drainage. As such, wearing a mask became a way of life; Malagasies followed the rules.

According to the most recently available data, at the time of publishing, from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University, Madagascar has recorded 19,065 Covid-19 cases, with 281 deaths since 11 April 2020. 

Although one of Africa’s countries least affected by the coronavirus, Madagascar’s government has courted controversy in its handling of the pandemic — most notably by promoting Covid-Organics (CVO) as a treatment and cure for Covid-19 in April 2020. 

Derived from artemisia annua — a plant that originates from Asia but grows in many parts of the world — CVO was proclaimed to be an “African remedy” fir the virus by Rajoelina. But a spike in recorded cases from 2,300 at the start of July, climbing to more than 10,000 by the end of the month, cast doubt on the effectiveness of CVO as a legitimate treatment. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation stated that there is no evidence that artemisia annua can in any way combat the virus. 

With Madagascar’s seven-day average of new cases rising moderately from 53 on 2 January 2021 to 63 by 29 January, only to decline to 46 by 4 February, there appears to be little sign of a second wave of infections, comparable to the scale of July 2020, when seven-day average cases peaked at 362.

Much time has passed since then and people living in Madagascar’s suburbs and villages slowly stopped wearing their masks. 

Now, almost a year later, some Malagasies do not care to wear face masks, as can be seen in the colour images. This is perhaps because they have dropped their guard amid the low rate of Covid-19 cases in the country, or simply grown weary of conforming to pandemic rules and regulations.

I manipulated the black and white images into the new colour photos.

I worked on this project to show how things have shifted. My black and white images depict people wearing masks in the early days of the pandemic.

The photos follow:

A vegetable vendor in the village market wearing her face mask with a background image of schoolchildren donning face masks and maintaining physical distancing at school. Antananarivo, Madagascar. (Photo: Alexander Joe)
A family going shopping with face masks worn. Citizens travelling into city and metro areas tend to wear masks to avoid police scrutiny. (Photo: Alexander Joe)
People waiting in line to register to attend Sunday mass while maintaining physical distancing. Only 50 people at a time are permitted to attend service. (Photo: Alexander Joe)
A young girl on her way to school without a face mask, at least until she arrives at the school grounds. All pupils are required to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing while in school. Antananarivo, Madagascar. (Photo: Alexander Joe)
A man looks out into the street from his gate, flanked by photos of people going about their daily life wearing face masks. (Photo: Alexander Joe)

 

Village residents not wearing face masks as they walk home from the market. Behind them, a photo of a couple wearing face masks on the ride to work. City dwellers are more likely to wear masks in public to avoid the attention of police. (Photo: Alexander Joe)

 

A homeless man alongside a photo of a bus conductor and a passenger using hand sanitiser while maintaining physical distancing. (Photo: Alexander Joe)
A young girl rides her bike towards home in the village without a face mask. Few villagers wear masks in public, although school pupils are compelled to wear masks and maintain physical distancing while at school. (Photo: Alexander Joe)
A father and son going shopping against the backdrop of a photo of a face mask resting on the handles of a bicycle. (Photo: Alexander Joe)

 DM

Alexander Joe is a Zimbabwean-born photographer. A member of the World Press Photo jury, exhibitions of his work have been held in Zimbabwe, the UK, Kenya, Mali, and France. He freelances now from his home base in Antananarivo, Madagascar, where he retired after more than 30 years as a wire service photographer covering wars and famines.

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"