Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 April 2020

Coronavirus: more African countries confirm first cases as Jack Ma pledges aid

Africa had until recently been spared rapid spread of Covid-19

Travellers wearing face masks as protective measure wait to get their temperature checked at the border post with Kenya in Namanga, northern Tanzania, on March 16, 2020, on the day Tanzania confirmed the first case of the Covid-19. AFP
Travellers wearing face masks as protective measure wait to get their temperature checked at the border post with Kenya in Namanga, northern Tanzania, on March 16, 2020, on the day Tanzania confirmed the first case of the Covid-19. AFP

More African nations confirmed their first cases of the coronavirus and shut borders amid fears of its effect on fragile healthcare systems.

Meanwhile, Chinese billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma pledged to donate more than 1 million testing kits to the continent.

Thirty African countries are now treating a total of nearly 400 patients with coronavirus, after Tanzania, Liberia, Benin and Somalia said they registered their first cases.

Africa had until recently been spared the rapid spread of Covid-19, which has infected at least 180,000 people worldwide and caused more than 7,000 deaths.

But health experts are concerned that the continent's often dilapidated health systems will struggle to cope as cases mount.

"We cannot ignore the potential risk to Africa and assume this continent of 1.3 billion people will blissfully escape the crisis," Mr Ma's foundation said.

"The world cannot afford the unthinkable consequences of a Covid-19 pandemic in Africa."

The foundation will send 1.1 million testing kits, 6 million masks and 60,000 protective suits and face shields to Ethiopia for distribution to Africa’s 54 nations, the foundation said.

Earlier on Monday, the World Bank said it had committed $60 million (Dh220.38m) to Kenya to help the East African nation battle the outbreak.

Some countries, such as conflict-hit Somalia, depend on donors to support basic public health facilities.

Somalian Health Minister Fawziya Abikar Nur said the ministry had quarantined and tested four Somalis who came from China last week. One tested positive for the respiratory disease.

International flights to Somalia were suspended for two weeks, said Mohammed Salad, the Aviation Minister.

In West Africa, the small and impoverished nation of Liberia announced its first case.

Liberia was devastated by a 2014 Ebola epidemic that killed 4,000 people, and its healthcare system has remained underfunded despite promises of investment.

Benin, considered a relatively stable democracy in the turbulent West African region, also announced its first case.

The Health Ministry said the Beninois national was being held in an isolation ward in the capital after returning from Belgium and Burkina Faso on March 11.

The Tanzanian Health Ministry also confirmed its first case, a Tanzanian woman who had travelled to Denmark, Sweden and Belgium.

She had her temperature taken at the airport but had no fever and was allowed to pass, but later felt unwell at her hotel, the ministry said.

Also on Monday, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Senegal and Cameroon all reported more cases.

South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said his nation, which has 62 cases so far, may need to use funds from other government departments to fight the disease.

Many African nations, including some without reported cases, have ordered tougher control measures, including bans on public gatherings, halting flights and closing schools and universities.

In North Africa, Tunisia said it would suspend international flights and close its land border.

Botswana, in southern Africa, said on Monday it would bar entry to travellers from 18 high-risk countries, including China, Britain, the US, Iran, France and Italy.

Senegal said it would suspend flights to and from France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Portugal, as well as Tunisia and Algeria, for 30 days.

Ivory Coast said it would bar entry to travellers from countries with more than 100 cases, although Ivorian citizens and residents could return if they went into quarantine for 14 days.

It closed schools, nightclubs and cinemas, and banned gatherings of more than 50 people, the National Security Council said.

Ethiopia, Africa's second-largest nation, joined the growing list of countries that closed schools for two weeks, suspended all large gatherings and cancelled all sports events, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office said.

Government buses will give people free rides to curb overcrowding in the public transport system, the government said.

In Central Africa, the Congo Republic said it would suspend all flights from high-risk countries from Thursday.

Neighbouring Gabon reduced the number of flights from abroad to one a week for each airline and ordered restaurants to close, apart from takeaway and delivery.

Nigeria's Health Ministry said Africa's most populous country had strengthened contact tracing, stockpiled reagents used in test kits and increased testing capacity.

Also on Monday, Kenyan police raided a clinic alleged to be selling fake coronavirus testing kits.

Police held staff and locked the centre, witnesses said, after it advertised test kits online.

Updated: March 17, 2020 02:40 AM

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