By Martins Ifijeh
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned Nigeria and other African countries to prepare for the Worst case scenario as COVID-19 continues to spread across the continent.
This is even as figures show there is a growing number of cases of the virus in Africa with 633 persons said to be infected while 17 deaths have been recorded so far in 34 African nations.
The Director General, WHO, DR. Tedros Ghebreyesus in his daily press briefing Wednesday, said Africa must ‘wake up’, adding that in other countries, the health body has seen how the virus accelerates after a certain tipping point.
The Gambia, Mauritius and Zambia have all reported their first cases of the virus in the last 24 hours.
Nigeria has also experienced it’s bout of the surge, as five new cases were recorded Wednesday.
The WHO said: “There are now 633 confirmed COVID19 cases in Africa in 33 countries and 17 deaths. In past 24 hrs, The Gambia, Mauritius and Zambia have announced first cases. @WHO is supporting countries with surveillance, diagnostics & treatment.”
South Africa has become the continent’s new focus of concern as cases nearly doubled to 116 from two days before.
Although the pandemic is in its early days on the continent, health experts have warned that even facilities in Africa could be overwhelmed by the virus’ spread.
“I think Africa should wake up. My continent should wake up,” Ghebreyesus cautioned
No African country has so far instituted a total lockdown of their country despite the recent developments
For instance, despite the jump in cases in Lagos, a crowded cosmopolitan city with over 22 million people, commuters continue to pack themselves into buses, a scenario that has caused the wide spread of the disease in most Asian countries and the European continent.
Meanwhile, sub-Saharan Africa has seen its second death from COVID-19, in Burkina Faso, which has one of the continent’s highest number of cases but has not imposed measures such as closing borders or banning religious services. Sudan previously reported a death.
In Kenya, police said a man accused of having the coronavirus was beaten to death. A police report obtained by The Associated Press said the man was returning home from a night out Wednesday when a group of youth approached and “took advantage of his drunkenness.”
In Ethiopia, the U.S. Embassy noted a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment after cases emerged there. “Reports indicate that foreigners have been attacked with stones, denied transportation services, being spat on, chased on foot, and been accused of being infected with COVID-19,” a security alert said.
Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, announced restrictions on the entry of travelers from countries with more than 1,000 coronavirus cases, including China and the U.S., and suspended visas on arrival for their citizens.
Nigeria has had eight cases of the virus, all in people recently arrived from abroad — one of the latest a six-week-old baby. The country said one of the new patients, an American, had entered via a land border, a first.
Three other African nations announced their first virus cases: Gambia, Zambia and Djibouti. Thirty-three of Africa’s 54 countries now have cases, with a total of at least 529 midday Wednesday.
Somalia, which announced its first case this week, closed schools and universities for two weeks and warned against public gatherings as the country with one of Africa’s weakest health systems tries to stop the virus’ spread.
“This is really a very scary moment,” said Hassan Kafi, a medical student in the capital, Mogadishu. The country has suffered from nearly three decades of conflict.
Uganda, which has no cases, banned travel to the worst-affected countries. It also suspended religious gatherings and restricted the number of people at weddings to 10 in a country known for mass ceremonies.
Health experts from some 20 African nations participated in a video conference with doctors in China on how to contain the virus.
“This is an extremely important step in terms of knowledge share,” said Kenya’s cabinet health secretary, Mutahi Kagwe
Africa has lagged behind the global curve for coronavirus infections and deaths, but in the past few days has seen a significant rise in cases.
Experts have repeatedly warned about the perils for the continent, given its weak health infrastructure, poverty, conflicts, poor sanitation and urban crowding.
Medical authorities in the poor Sahel state of Burkina Faso announced Wednesday that the number of infections there had risen by seven to 27 — and that one of them, a 62-year-old diabetic woman, had died overnight.
The country’s main opposition party, the Union for Progress and Change (UPC), said in a statement that the victim was its lawmaker Rose-Marie Compaore, the first vice president of the parliament.
South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised economy, reported a more than one-third jump in cases, with 31 new infections bringing its tally to 116.
Nearby Zambia announced its first two confirmed cases — a couple that returned to the capital Lusaka from a 10-day holiday in France.
As of Wednesday, a tally of reported cases compiled by AFP stood at more than 600 for all of Africa.
Of these, 16 cases have been fatal: six in Egypt, six in Algeria, two in Morocco, one in Sudan and one in Burkina Faso.
Those figures are relatively small compared to the rest of world — the global death toll has passed 8,800 with almost 210,000 total infections.
WHO chief Tedros said sub-Saharan Africa had recorded 233 infections, but warned the official numbers likely did not reflect the full picture.
“Probably we have undetected cases or unreported cases,” he said.