Not everyone is aware of coronavirus
PIC: AFP

A half-year into the most momentous pandemic in decades, it's hard to imagine that anyone, anywhere has not heard of the coronavirus.

But scores of migrants arriving in Somalia tell United Nations workers every day that they are unaware of COVID-19.

Monitors for the UN migration agency interview people at the border in Somalia, a crossroads on one of the world's most dangerous migration routes: across the Red Sea with traffickers, through war-ravaged Yemen and into rich Gulf countries.

The questions for migrants are simple. Origin? Destination? Why are you going? But after the first infections were confirmed in Somalia, a new one was added: How many people in your group are aware of the coronavirus? In the week ending June 20, just over half - 51 per cent - of the 3,471 people tracked said they had never heard of COVID-19.

"The first time I saw this I was also very shocked," Celeste Sanchez Bean, a program manager with the UN agency based in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, told The Associated Press.

The findings, little more than a line in the agency's reports, are a reminder of the huge challenges in reaching everyone in the world with information about the pandemic, much less getting them to wear face masks.

The migrants are often young men from rural parts of neighboring Ethiopia. Most have no education, and some are from communities where internet access is low, Bean said. She doubted that anything had been lost in translation.

"We've been interviewing migrants for many years," she said.

In past interviews, many migrants were not even aware that a war was being waged in Yemen, the next step on their journey, she said.

With that in mind, "I'm not super shocked that levels of awareness of the coronavirus are still very low." Instead, she's heartened that the number of those unaware of COVID-19 has been dropping over the dozen weeks that the question has been asked, down from 88 per cent at the start.

Anyone who is unaware of the coronavirus is given a short explanation of the pandemic, including how the virus is contracted and descriptions of the symptoms and preventative measures.

What worries Bean now are the findings of a new project mapping the migrant route through Somalia, a country destabilized by decades of conflict, and merging it with epidemiological data showing coronavirus infections.

"It's very clear to us that migrants are transiting areas with confirmed cases," she said.

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