YAOUNDE, Cameroon ( Associated Press) — The risk is obvious when you look at a major international football tournament in a country with precariously low COVID-19 vaccination levels, just after the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Less clear are the opportunities it could bring to the fight against coronavirus infections.
Central African country Cameroon is hosting Africa’s biggest football tournament, the African Cup of Nations, this month amid the re-emerging pandemic. It has brought 24 teams, over 600 players based around the world, hundreds of officials and unknown fans to the country. Given the outbreak in teams alone, many have come down with the virus.
Cameroon is a vulnerable country, with less than 3% of its population of 26 million being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University’s global tracker. By all indications, it is exposing itself to a rise in cases.
But a potential upside, a rare opportunity, could be to boost vaccination levels in a country low on the global list.
Cameroonian authorities have made it mandatory for fans to get vaccinated before watching any of the 52 games in stadiums across five cities. After months of trying to persuade the Cameroonians to put up with their jabs and resistance and hesitation, they now have a tangible reward for wooing football-crazed skeptics.
So, here’s the sale: if you want to see Cameroon’s own indomitable Lions, or Liverpool watching Mohamed Salah play for Egypt, or other top stars on the field in your hometown, perhaps the opportunity of a lifetime (Cameroon) last hosted the tournament 50 years ago), get vaccinated. Fans are able to get free shots and virus tests outside stadiums before games, where tents are thrown out and tables and chairs are laid out. waiting for health workers
“I haven’t vaccinated myself yet because of the myth behind the vaccine. But I am considering it, especially with the enthusiasm that surrounds this AFCON,” said football fan Fawn Lionel, using the common abbreviation for the African Cup of Nations. “Not watching at least one match in your country would be like deciding to stop being a football lover.”
When Cameroon’s government drew up its game plan for the month-long African Cup, which began on 9 January and ends on 6 February, this was the response expected.
Dr. Eric Tandy, of the Health Emergency Unit in Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Health, said: “Slightly reluctant football lovers have joined the squad to participate in the vaccination campaign.” “We have increased the number of people going for jobs.”
He said the increase was “particularly” in the regions that are hosting the Games.
Cameron is a bit cheated. It was announced that fans would have to be fully vaccinated and have proof of a recent negative virus test to be in the stadium. In fact, fans are getting in on the game after receiving shots of one-dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but also after only one dose of some of the other two-dose vaccines.
This means that some fans are not fully vaccinated yet. But Tandy said, “I don’t have a problem with that.” He stressed that the goal is to give people at least some protection, and that negative virus tests are mandatory. Tandi also said that the government is trying to “not let people down” who are hesitant on vaccines anyway.
Like last year’s Tokyo Olympics, Cameroon had a chance to ban spectators, but the government thought it would backfire during its biggest national event in half a century. Instead, it saw an opportunity, encouraged people to go to sports, and secured a new batch of two million vaccines for them.
But in a snapshot of football fans, commentary hesitation is still going strong.
In the western city of Bua, Mbah Michael said he was desperate to go to the Games, but “if getting a vaccine is the only way, some people like me may have no choice but to follow the competition on TV.” Is.”
Unvaccinated fans are being turned away from games and some experts suspect football could be widely successful in allaying hesitation if public health warnings fail.
“Most fans don’t want to be vaccinated,” said Daniella Daniels, the vaccine pass controller at the stadium.
Dr. Gilbert Anyah, a private physician in the capital of Yaoundé, believes that too much attention is paid to stadiums, where crowds fluctuate from good size for Cameroonian games to small size for other matches. it happens. This is specific to the African Cup.
Anya is deeply concerned about what is happening away from stadiums and the imperative of millions of uneducated Cameroonians gathering in crowds at restaurants, bars and other public places across the country to watch sports on TV.
“It poses a huge risk,” Anyah said.
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