How this 'coronavirus hairstyle' is helping raise awareness in Africa

Both girls had their hair done in a trendy style that imitates the shape of the coronavirus.
Both girls had their hair done in a trendy style that imitates the shape of the coronavirus.
SOPA Images

While salons in South Africa remain closed to curb the spread of the killer coronavirus, people have been tearing their hair out wondering what to do with their crowns. Some have taken matters into their own hands, trimming their relaxed ends, braiding their hair or shaving it off completely.

In Kenya, where salons can operate under strict conditions, hairdresser Sharon Refa has erected a makeshift shop beside a busy road in the township of Kibera, Nairobi. Sharon’s salon recently came under the spotlight when she started braiding children’s hair in a ’do dubbed the coronavirus hairstyle.


The hairdo has taken the country by storm because of its similarity to the Covid-19’s crown of club-shaped spikes. The coronavirus has killed more than 50 people in the east African country with more than 1 000 confirmed infections, but due to a shortage of testing equipment, experts fear that the real number of cases could be higher.

Kenya’s economy has also taken a battering thanks to the pandemic, leaving many struggling. “Covid-19 has destroyed the economy, taken our jobs from us and now money is scarce,” said one of Sharon’s clients, Mariam Rashad.


“I therefore decided to have my child’s hair done up like this at an affordable [price] and she looks good,” the 26-year-old mom added. “The hairstyle also helps communicating with the public about the virus.”


Nearly every African country has reported Covid-19 cases but according to Sharon (24), many people don’t believe they’ll get it. “Some grown-ups don’t believe coronavirus is real, but most young children appear keen to sanitise and wear masks. So many adults do not do this and that’s why we came up the corona hairstyle,” she told TIME magazine.


Some people, however, have pointed out that the hairstyle was around long before Covid-19 came along. Known as “isi owu” or African threading, it has traditionally been used to help hair grow because it involves wrapping sections of hair in black yarn, which is styled into spiky barbs.

The hairstyle is thought to have gone out of fashion in recent years as imported real and synthetic hair from India, China and Brazil began to flood the market. But social-media users say these reports are untrue.

“It is a protective hairstyle that West African women have been wearing for years,” one Twitter user pointed out. The hairstyle may not be as novel as Covid-19, but Sharon’s salon is packed with mask-wearing little girls eager to get in on the trend.

It costs 50 shillings (about R9) to get the look, while the average hairdo costs between 300 and 500 shillings (R52 to R87). Like many stressed moms, Margaret Andeya says the corona hairstyle is easy on her pocket.

“The hairstyle is much more affordable for people like me who can’t afford to pay for the more expensive hairstyles out there and yet still want our kids to look stylish,” she told The Guardian. It also helps that the striking style is a visual reminder of the growing threat – and why we need to stay safe.