JUBA, South Sudan

The impact of COVID-19 risks undermining the fragile health system in South Sudan, causing the death of many more people from preventable health problems than the virus itself, according to a UN official.

“COVID-19 is going to hit hard. But not in the way that we think. Yes, people will die from the virus, like everywhere else in the world.

“But the real threat to the people of South Sudan lies in the collapse of the already fragile health system. This could result in many more lives being lost – a tragedy that can be prevented,” David Shearer, special representative of the secretary-general for South Sudan, said in a statement released on Tuesday.

The North African country confirmed 1,930 coronavirus cases and 36 deaths so far although limited testing and social stigma is obscuring the true magnitude of the disease.

“The political impasse, on top of the COVID-19 lockdown, has caused the conflict to escalate with violent incidents multiplying four-fold in two years,” said Shearer.

“This violence can no longer be pigeonholed as ‘intercommunal’. Fighters in uniform have been spotted suggesting that organized forces may be joining the conflict which risks unravelling the cease-fire.”

Despite some positive progress, Shearer said the peace process is “faltering” and requires “renewed energy and a reset.”

He said governors should now be appointed to fill a power vacuum and help resolve escalating conflict in places like Jonglei where hundreds of civilians have been killed and 60,000 displaced.

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