Mali on lockdown as first coronavirus cases reported, but parliamentary elections to go ahead

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced a national night curfew on Wednesday to limit the spread of the coronavirus, but said a parliamentary vote scheduled for this week would go ahead.

In a television address, Keita said the government would impose a curfew between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., starting on Thursday, and close land borders in response to the virus.

Freight will still be allowed in the West African state, he said, and markets will remain open.

Earlier Wednesday, Malian authorities recorded the country’s first coronavirus infections in two nationals recently arrived from France.

Experts fear that the country is particularly exposed to an epidemic because of its jihadist conflict, which erupted in the north in 2012 and has since engulfed the center.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the conflict and parts of Mali’s territory remain out of state control.

Despite the risk of coronavirus, Keita said a delayed parliamentary election – the first round of which is scheduled for Sunday – will take place, albeit in “scrupulous respect” for health measures.

“The government will do everything in its power to make it happen,” he said.

The holding of parliamentary elections was a key recommendation of the December crisis talks, which aimed to explore non-military solutions to the escalating violence in the country.

The current crop of MPs from Mali was elected in 2013, in a ballot won by the Keita Rally for Mali.

Parliamentary elections were again due to take place in late 2018 after Keita’s re-election.

But the poll was postponed several times, the authorities citing a strike by the judges or a deterioration in security.