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Over the past months, the COVID-19 outbreak has quickly worked its way out of Asia and into Europe, the Americas and Oceania. Now, another continent is beginning to feel the effects of the global pandemic — Africa.
As of writing time, Africa has nearly 450 cases of COVID-19, spread within 30 of the continent’s 54 countries. Of these, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) identified a dozen countries where local virus transmission is taking place. These include some of the nations with the most cases on the continent such as Algeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Morocco and Senegal.
Prior to this, a number of cases had already been reported on the continent. However, these were from people arriving from abroad — something that has caused a number of African nations to impose travel bans on foreigners coming from Europe and the United States. Now the growing number of cases where the disease was transmitted locally is bringing greater concern.
A cruise ship was quarantined off Cape Town in South Africa after six passengers shared a flight from Istanbul, Turkey with a cargo ship worker and a colleague who has since shown symptoms of COVID-19. The eight have since been evacuated and quarantined. Meanwhile, the remaining cruise ship passengers are being tested onboard the ship while in quarantine. Officials, however, have yet to release the number of passengers and crew on board. The news comes as the number of cases in South Africa increased to 85, with 8 new cases from local transmission reported Tuesday night.
Liberia has reported its second case of the virus, one day after its first. The patient in this latest case is a domestic worker under the employ of the first patient, a local official who recently arrived from Switzerland.
Other countries that have announced new cases include Africa’s most popular nation Nigeria, as well as Rwanda and Kenya. The latter has since proclaimed that Saturday would be a day of prayer but has also urged people to do so at home.
Two foreign diplomats in Africa have also caught the virus. The latest case in Ethiopia is a diplomat working for the British Embassy who had recently arrived from Dubai. Meanwhile, Italy’s ambassador to Burkina Faso, Andrea Romussi, has announced that he had tested positive for the virus.
With the outbreak now in the continent, several African countries are enacting measures against it’s spread, even if it has yet to reach their borders. Zimbabwe declared a national disaster Tuesday, even though cases have yet to be reported in it. The country has banned gatherings of over 100 people within the next two months. So too has Burkina Faso, who has also since closed down schools. However, the country’s government has made an exception for religious gatherings. No such exception exists in Senegal, however.
Meanwhile, Libya has closed off its airspace. On the opposite end of the continent, South Africa declared a national emergency and closed half its borders. The country is also temporarily closing down schools to protect children from the virus.
To make sure infected people are isolated as quickly as possible, South Africa has also implemented a policy that makes sure test results are revealed as soon as they come out.
“In our efforts to ensure transparency, we have decided to release results as they are submitted by both public and private labs,” stated Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize. “In instances where our confirmation tests give contrary results, we will inform the public, make reference to that specific result previously announced and give the outcome of the confirmation results.”
The region’s leaders are definitely not taking the matter sitting down. Two of them, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed have even taken to social media, posting videos showing people how to properly wash their hands.
Despite the measures African nations are implementing, however, some experts feel that people across the continent have yet to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously,
“That’s the danger I’m worried about,” stated Dr. Oyewale Tomori, a professor of virology and former president of the Nigerian Academy of Science. “We can’t wait for a repeat of what happened in China.”
The exemptions for religious gatherings in Burkina Faso are one such example. More than 5,000 people gathered for Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque in the nation’s capital of Ouagadougou. Meanwhile, on Sunday, thousands of men and women continued to flock to churches.
After Sunday service at the Central Assemblies of God church, Rev. Jean-Baptiste Rouamba stated that he would cancel worship services if the government ordered it. However, he noted that his services had been more popular than ever since the outbreak started, attracting up to 2,000 people.
Some are thinking that the belief that the virus doesn’t thrive in hot climates is the reason why people aren’t taking it seriously. Even after Kenya announced its first case of COVID-19 last week, rumors were circulating on social media that Africans were immune to the virus.
“I would like to disabuse that notion, the lady is an African, like you and I,” stated Mutahi Kagwe, Kenya’s health minister, in reference to the country’s first case of COVID-19.
Africa has had experiences with dealing with outbreaks before, thanks largely in part to the 2013 Ebola virus outbreak that began in West Africa. This outbreak led to the establishment of the Africa CDC alongside various public health institutions. However, it also exposed the fact that the public health systems in the continent were relatively weak.
“I don’t believe, if we have a large influx of people with the virus, we can cope,” said Dr. Tomori.
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