Lockdowns as Africa starts to tackle ‘one of the biggest health challenges in a generation’


Congo, The Democratic Republic Of The

Countries across Africa have begun to initiate lockdowns as cases of COVID-19 rise above 1,000, with Nigeria announcing it is closing airports to all incoming international flights for a month in the continent’s most populous country.

Key points:

  • Nigeria recorded the first case in sub-Saharan Africa only three weeks ago
  • South Africa has cancelled visas for 10,000 Chinese and Iranian citizens
  • Virunga National Park has closed to protect its mountain gorilla population

Experts are concerned the continent will not be able to handle a surge in cases without the depth of medical facilities available in more developed economies.

“This is one of the biggest health challenges Africa has faced in a generation,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation’s regional director for Africa, said.

“Adopting approaches which are adaptable to the African context is key to containing the spread,” she said.

Africa now has more than 1,100 cases of the coronavirus, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Many African countries have already shut their borders, closed schools and universities and barred large public gatherings.



Photo:

Africa’s fragile healthcare systems face grave challenges with COVID-19. (Reuters: Feisal Omar)

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South Africa bars foreigners

Nigeria announced the first coronavirus case in sub-Saharan Africa just three weeks ago.

Authorities said the country’s first patient, a man who had travelled from Italy, was now fit to go home.

It has banned all religious activities for at least a month.

Nigeria’s international flight ban came a day after Africa’s busiest airport, in Johannesburg, blocked foreigners from disembarking and two major airlines — Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways — announced sweeping cancellations of international flights.

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In South Africa, which has the most cases in sub-Saharan Africa, more citizens have taken to wearing masks and gloves in public.

The number of confirmed cases in the country rose by 38 to 240 on Saturday.

The South African Government announced this week it would revoke nearly 10,000 visas issued this year to people from China and Iran, and visas would now be required for other high-risk countries that had been visa-free, including Italy and the United States.



Photo:

There is major concern over what will happen when coronavirus takes hold in Africa. (AP: Themba Hadebe)

Burkina Faso now has the most virus deaths of any country in sub-Saharan Africa, along with the most total cases in West Africa at 64.

It is one of Africa’s most fragile states with a growing humanitarian crisis caused by attacks linked to Islamic extremists.

More than 130 health centres have closed, Burkina Faso’s Government and aid groups say.

Jerry-Jonas Mbasha, cluster coordinator for WHO in Burkina Faso, said he was “much worried about what might happen in the next one week, two weeks from now.”

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Efforts to protect gorillas

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home to about a third of the world’s mountain gorillas, has shut its gates due to the crisis.

“The park’s temporary closure of mountain gorilla tourism is being undertaken as a precautionary measure and it’s in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendation to restrict movement and limit social contact,” it said in a statement.



Photo:

A park ranger walks past a mountain gorilla in the Virunga National Park in eastern Congo. (AP: Jerome Delay)

“It has been taken following advice from scientific experts indicating that primates, including mountain gorillas, are likely susceptible to complications arising from the COVID-19 virus.”

More than 275,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed globally, including over 11,000 deaths, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

At least 88,000 people have recovered.

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