The Senegalese government has said it will it slightly ease a curfew and lift a ban on inter-regional travel after two nights of unrest against the curbs imposed in March to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Protesters in the capital, Dakar, set tyres on fire and threw rocks at security forces on Wednesday, a day after similar scenes in the city of Touba, some 200km (120 miles) further east.
Demonstrators were dispersed by police and gendarmes using tear gas, while pictures posted on social media showed military vehicles in the street.
Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye told a news conference on Thursday the dusk-to-dawn curfew would be shortened by two hours to 11pm until 5am (local time), and that restrictions on travel between Senegal’s regions would be lifted.
“Gatherings in public or private places, restaurants, gyms, casinos will also benefit from these relaxation measures,” he said.
The lockdown curbs have had a significant effect on the country’s economy and have also been deeply felt on a personal level by many Senegalese who rely on day-by-day jobs. About 40 percent of the population live below the threshold of poverty, according to the World Bank.
“The measures announced by the interior minister are in hopes to quell all that pent-up anger among people who have been stuck indoors for so long waiting to go back out get back to work,” Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dakar, said.
“[But] talking to people here about the new measures, they say ‘they’re too little, too late’,” he added.
Transport Minister Oumar Youm, meanwhile, said President Macky Sall would give three billion CFA francs ($5.17m) to sectors that had been hit particularly hard by the crisis, including taxi drivers.
To date, Senegal has confirmed almost 4,000 cases of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, including 45 deaths. Dakar and Touba, which is both a trading hub and major pilgrimage destination, have been worst hit.
The figures are low compared with countries in Europe and the United States, although experts caution that, as elsewhere in Africa, Senegal is vulnerable to the pandemic because of its weak healthcare system.
Sall announced a first relaxation of measures on May 11, allowing places of worship and markets to reopen.
At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, he signalled that further steps would follow, declaring the time had approached for “a strategy of gradual easing”.
High schools had been due to reopen on Tuesday, but this step was delayed on the eleventh hour after 10 teachers in the southern region of Casamance tested positive for COVID-19.