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Somalia’s coronavirus khat bans leaves chewers in a stew

In normal times, around midday, when the bunches of fresh leaves arrive in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, by plane from Kenya, men disappear from view, lounging in khat kiosks or chewing at home.

The leaf, also known as miraa, acts as a stimulant, sending users into a frenzy of excited chatter. Business deals are made and broken, tired fighters are kept awake.

In March, the government of Somalia banned international flights, including khat planes, as part of its efforts to contain coronavirus.

When it imposed a lockdown, it forbade people from gathering together to chew their beloved leaves as this would break social distancing rules. Officials warned that because khat is picked by hand it could help spread Covid-19.

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