Africa takes steps in bid to dodge coronavirus nightmare gripping Europe

Nairobi/Cairo/Rabat/Tunisia, Mar 25 (efe-epa).- Many African countries have adopted drastic confinement measures and mobilised funds in a bit to avoid the fate of Europe, where some countries have been overwhelmed by the coronavirus outbreak.

Kenyan doctor Ahmed Ogwell, deputy director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said: “If we become complacent, the virus will hit us harder than Europe because our health systems are fragile.

“We must anticipate that curve to avoid great suffering and human loss.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, has urged the continent to “prepare for the worst”.

Cases in Africa have been comparatively low with 2,000 confirmed infections and 58 deaths since the disease emerged in China in December.

Internationally there have been more than 435,000 infections and 19,000 deaths in 170 countries, according to data from the John Hopkins University.

The pandemic has spread to 43 of 54 African countries, the least affected region on the planet, with a large number of cases imported from Europe, although local transmission has begun to intensify.

Unlike countries such as Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom, which reported their first infections in late January but did not impose containment measures until a few weeks ago, many African nations have taken preventative moves, aware of the weakness of their public health services.

Nearly all have closed schools, bars, churches and mosques, in addition to banning large gatherings, closing borders and imposing curfews such as in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Sudan, Egypt and Tunisia.

As the pandemic has increased over the past few days, many governments have tightened restrictions with some ordering citizens into confinement.

Rwanda, which has more than 40 confirmed cases, became the second country in sub-Saharan Africa, a region with poor public health, to order a two-week lockdown on Saturday. The first to adopt it was Mauritius the day before.

South Africa, the most industrialised African country, took the same measure on Monday and ordered a 21-day lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “This is a decisive move to save millions of South Africans from infection and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.”

He announced the lockdown after the number of cases increased from 274 to 402 in 24 hours.

South Africa’s total infections have since risen to more than 700, surpassing Egypt, which has around 400, as the most-affected African nation.

In North Africa, Tunisia and Algeria have also imposed confinement rules after the latter became the first on the continent to report a coronavirus case on February 25.

On Sunday both governments ordered all non-essential personnel to remain at home, and a day later Tunisia deployed its army to enforce the restrictions.

Both countries have taken other measures to tackle the outbreak, especially Tunisia which has been suffering from an acute economic crisis.

Tunisian authorities mobilised 800 million euros and started negotiations for a loan with the International Monetary Fund.

In Morocco, the government has imposed a month of confinement, with citizens only allowed to leave their homes to buy food or medicine.

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