Africa Must Wake Up to Coronavirus Threats – WHO’s Head cautions

Africa must "wake up" to the threat coronavirus poses for its continent and prepare for the worst, the Head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the continent should learn from how the spread of the virus has sped up elsewhere.

Though Africa's confirmed cases are currently low, around 640, there’s no reason for complacency as cases keep increasing, he warned.  

"Africa should wake up, my continent should wake up," remarked WHO's first African head.                                      

Health experts warn that strained public health systems in Africa could become quickly overwhelmed if the virus takes hold.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

"WHO's recommendation is actually mass gatherings should be avoided and we should do all we can to cut it from the bud, expecting that the worst could happen," Mr. Tedros told a news conference at WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.

Current statistics of Coronavirus in Africa

In Africa, 18 people have died from Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus: eight in Algeria, six in Egypt, two in Morocco, one in Sudan and one in Burkina Faso.   

What are the measures African countries are putting in place to contain the virus?

Ghana on Thursday, March 19, 2020, recorded two more coronavirus cases, increasing the country’s number of confirmed cases to nine.  The government of Ghana has banned all social gatherings and flights coming in from highly affected countries and has also shut down schools as measures to contain the virus.                                                                                                             

On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, the government of Nigeria announced it was restricting entry into the country for travellers from China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Those coming from high-risk countries are asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

The government of Algeria said it would suspend air and sea travel with Europe from Thursday, March 19, 2020. Authorities had previously halted flights with Morocco, Spain, France, and China.

The government of Egypt will suspend all air traffic at its airports from Thursday, March 19, 2020, until Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

On March 14, Morocco said it would halt flights to and from 25 countries, extending an earlier ban that covered China, Spain, Italy, France, and Algeria.

The countries affected are Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chad, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Senegal, Switzerland, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, and the UAE.

President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a state of disaster, restricting travel, closing schools, banning mass gatherings and ordering bars to close or limit numbers to 50. The number of confirmed cases so far in South Africa is 116.

Other countries on the continent have also been imposing similar restrictions this week.