News Coronavirus Coronavirus casts its growing shadow over Africa
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Coronavirus casts its growing shadow over Africa

Nairobi bus drivers check each other's surgical masks, now part of their official uniform. Photo: EPA/ Daniel Irungu
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No stranger to epidemics, famine and early death, Africa is being hit by the coronavirus, with health authorities across the continent reporting their first cases.

Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Guinea and Mauritania have all confirmed outbreaks, giving the disease a foothold in 19 countries.

Africa had until now largely been spared the rapid spread of COVID-19, which has infected at least 135,000 people and killed around 5,000 worldwide.

Most of Africa’s reported cases were foreigners or people who had travelled abroad. Rapid testing and quarantines have been put in place to limit transmission.

But concerns are growing about the continent’s ability to handle the disease.

Cases have been reported in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Mauritania’s health ministry said late on Friday that its first coronavirus patient is a European man – nationality not specified – who had returned to Nouakchott on March 9 and had since been in quarantine.

The numbers of cases in most of the countries are still in single figures.
Senegal confirmed 11 new cases on Friday, raising the total in that West African nation to 21. Its health ministry said 16 had been infected by the same man who had returned from Italy.

Among those confirming first cases on Friday, Kenya is the richest economy in East Africa and a hub for global companies and the United Nations, while Ethiopia is Africa’s second-most populous nation, with 109 million people. Addis Ababa and Nairobi are regional transit hubs.

In Nairobi, the Kenyan authorities banned all major public events and said they would restrict foreign travel. The mayor of Addis Ababa urged citizens to avoid close personal contact but Ethiopia’s health minister said there were no plans to cancel flights.

Kenyan Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said the country’s first case, a 27-year-old Kenyan, was diagnosed on Thursday after travelling home via London on March 5.

He said the government had traced most of the people she had been in contact with, including fellow passengers on her flight, and a government response team would monitor their temperatures for the next two weeks.

The Ethiopian case was a 48-year old Japanese national who arrived in Ethiopia on March 4, the health ministry said.

Guinea’s first case was an employee of the European Union delegation who had self-isolated after she felt ill upon returning from Europe, the EU delegation said.

Sudan’s first confirmed coronavirus case was a man who died on Thursday in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the Health Ministry said. He had visited the United Arab Emirates in the first week of March.

-with AAP