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Africa takes measures against COVID-19

Cristina Krippahl
March 16, 2020

Several African countries announced new cases of coronavirus over the weekend. African governments reacted with measures to keep the infection from spreading. But some African countries are ill-equipped for a pandemic.

A Zambian man trying on a face mask at a pharmacy
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/E. Mwiche

Tanzania and Somalia confirmed their first cases of the coronavirus, while Rwanda registered seven new infections raising the number of African countries affected to 30 out of 54. Cameroon announced on Tuesday a 10th case, only a few hours after stating that  two patients who initially contracted the virus were ''cured''.

Several countries on the continent already took drastic measures to slow down the spread of the virus. Authorities shut down borders, canceled flights and imposed strict entry and quarantine regulations. On Monday morning, the toll in Africa stood at 373 cases and eight deaths. The regulations are aimed foremost at travelers from countries such as Italy, Germany, China and the United States, among those most severely hit by COVID-19.

In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster. He also warned against a possible negative impact of the epidemic on the country's struggling economy. The country recorded 61 cases so far. To keep the numbers from rising, foreigners who have been to high-risk countries in the last 20 days will be denied visas, while South Africans returning home will be tested and quarantined. The government said on Monday that it will revoke 10,000 visas issued to people from China and Iran. It will also introduce visas for hard-hit countries like Italy and the US.

Kenya blocked entry into the country from all except citizens and residents. The ban, to be put into effect within 48 hours, will last for at least 30 days. The Kenyan government also shut down schools and universities. Authorities are encouraging citizens not to handle actual banknotes and coins — a possible source of contamination — and make all their transactions cashless. Kenya has recorded three cases, but there are fears of a rapid spread if strict measures are not taken right away. Neighboring Tanzania, which has one confirmed case, canceled flights to India.

Threat of Coronavirus on fragile countries

Image if a pair of hands holding soap under a faucet
Health experts advise to wash your hands often and thoroughlyImage: Imago Images/M. Westermann

In Zimbabwe, defense minister Oppah Muchinguri said the "coronavirus is the work of God punishing countries who imposed sanctions on us." The European Union (EU) and the United States maintained sanctions against the country after President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeded Robert Mugabe. The economic sanctions were maintained as a result of the failure of Mnangagwa's government to make progress in democratic and human rights reforms.

Zimbabwe has yet to register a case of the novel coronavirus. But, like neighboring Mozambique, the country is still fragile after being hit by cyclone Idai a year ago. Thousands of families have not been provided with adequate housing. Local food shortages in Mozambique have weakened a huge section of the population, increasing the threat of the virus, which experts feel is bound to reach both countries sooner or later.

Two researchers working at a secure laboratory in Senegal
Some African countries are better equipped to fight the virus than othersImage: Getty Images/AFP/Seyllou

New cases have meanwhile been detected in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Seychelles, the Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea. The DRC registered the first case of Covid-19 on Saturday night, a Franco-Congolese citizen, aged 50, who had returned from Paris on March 1st. The Central African Republic also confirmed the first case of coronavirus on Saturday, after a 74-year-old Italian resident in the country tested positive after a trip home. In the Seychelles, the Ministry of Health confirmed two positive cases.

WHO worried over Africa's capacity to fight COVID-19

In Equatorial Guinea, one positive case was confirmed on Saturday according to the Ministry of Health. Since Friday, at least ten African countries have registered the first cases of COVID-19, including Namibia, Rwanda, Ghana and Gabon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been warning for weeks that health systems in many African countries are not equipped to respond to the pandemic. As early as February, WHO's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on African Union member states "to come together to be more aggressive in attacking" the virus known as COVID-19. "If truly we have a virus introduced on the continent and it becomes a larger issue, the ability to procure diagnostics in a timely fashion to support that testing will still be limited," he said.

But on weekend, South African President Ramaphosa struck a positive note: "If we act now and if we act decisively, I am sure we will overcome it. We have never been defeated by any thing, event, when we are united," he said.

Ghanaian traders fear to run out of stock