DAKAR (Reuters) – With COVID-19 cases surging across Senegal, Pape Gueye made the difficult decision to spend the first Eid al-Adha of his life apart from his 88-year-old mother.
“I know a lot of people who had it,” said Gueye, 43, mixing a cup of green tea as he sat with masked friends in front of his flat in the capital, Dakar.
“Some of them got through it, and some of them died,” he said on Monday, the day before the Muslim holiday to mark the feast of sacrifice, known in Senegal as Tabaski, when families gather together across the country. “After what I felt and the people around me who had it, I will stay at home.”
On the whole, the West African country has been spared the levels of death and infection seen in other parts of the world, recording just 52,671 cases and 1,227 deaths during the pandemic, according to health ministry figures.
But cases have soared in the past week, threatening to overwhelm health services just as Senegalese prepare to gather in extended families for the year’s most anticipated feast.
President Macky Sall threatened on Friday to close borders and impose a new state of emergency after the country broke its daily case record three times in a single week.
The day after Sall’s declaration, that record doubled to over 1,350. Supply shortages mean the virus could have ample room to run. Just over 600,000 doses of vaccine have been administered to a population of around 16 million people.
Not everyone in Dakar was on the same page as Gueye on Monday. Parking lots and street corners were lined with buses heading out of town, their roofs loaded with luggage and sacrificial sheep. Inside, few passengers wore masks.
Some people scoffed at the idea that the risk of COVID-19 could trump a holy event. Others were more measured, yet steadfast in their desire to travel.
“After staying so long without seeing your family members, your mother or your children, even if the COVID-19 situation is complicated, you close your eyes and go,” said Alhassane Sow, carrying a machete he would use to slaughter the family lamb.
(Reporting by Ngouda Dione and Cooper Inveen; Editing by Aaron Ross and Karishma Singh)