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Africa’s telecoms union calls for action against coronavirus in Africa

Union calls for harmonised action by African telco regulators and operators to combat pandemic by implementing Common Alerting Protocol (CAP).

The African Telecommunications Union (ATU), a specialised agency of the African Union in the field of telecommunications, has announced a set of guidelines for other regulators and operators to assist in combating the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Twenty-seven African countries have recorded over 357 coronavirus cases, according to the World Health Organisation. Egypt leads in cumulated confirmed cases at 196, South Africa 116, Algeria 72, Morocco 49, and Senegal 36. Other countries with over ten cases include Tunisia, Burkina Faso, D.R. Congo, Rwanda and Cameroon.

The ATU has called for the activation of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) which involves the use of multiple modes of communication to educate the public including vulnerable groups about the disease as well as the preventive measures.

The CAP will make it possible for people to receive CAP-originated information through mobile and landline telephones, Internet, sirens (in-building or outdoor), broadcast radio and television, cable TV, satellite direct broadcast, and digital signage networks, among others.

Fixed and mobile telephony providers should reserve dedicated network capacity which should be made available free of charge to the authorities handling Covid-19. They should provide emergency numbers, for example, 119, for voice messaging and promote short message service (SMS) as an alternative to telephonic communications during this period. The ATU asked for calls to emergency numbers to be free.

Regulators should streamline the process to allow telecom/ICT services to be available as soon as possible and establish priority call routing on both mobile and fixed networks for people engaged in Covid-19 response as well as other entities and institutions involved in such activities.

Rules should be in place to expedite the importation process of critical telecom/ICT equipment that might be used for response and recovery: e.g. exemptions from duties and tariffs, clear expedited processes and streamlined paperwork.

There should be coordinated efforts during this period and clearly defined functions for different government institutions, e.g. ministries of foreign affairs, ICT and communications, customs, regulatory agencies and first responders such as hospitals among others.

Regulators should also carry out activities and procedures to connect all actors in the ecosystem at the local, national and international levels and ensure effective flow of information as the continent fights Covid-19, the ATU said in its guidelines.