African nations batten down hatches to stem coronavirus spread

By Patricia Martinez

Nairobi, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- Many countries in Africa have taken drastic measures in recent days to prevent the coronavirus from spreading uncontrollably and wreaking havoc across the continent.

As of Tuesday, at least 30 countries on the continent have been affected by the pandemic, causing more than 400 infections and seven deaths.

“We hope we don’t get there (to European infection levels). Because the health systems in Africa are very fragile and it could be quite disastrous to have large numbers at once” Ahmed Ogwell, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Africa (CDC), told Efe.

“It is true that the number of infections is increasing, but in general it is one or two per day, not too many together,” Ogwell added.

Like Ogwell, several experts trust that Covid-19 will have a lesser impact on the region for several reasons: air traffic is much lower than the rest of the world, and there is ample experience of containing deadly epidemics like Ebola, cholera or Lassa fever, among others.

But nobody knows what will happen tomorrow, the expert said of the pandemic which has already caused roughly 7,000 deaths – almost half of them in China – and over 180,000 infections globally.

Africa’s 54 nations have registered a low presence of Covid-19 in comparison with Asia, Europe and the Americas.

But many suspect that the true tally could be much higher given the scarce testing that is being carried out and the clampdown on information by many governments.

“We don’t have more cases because we are not testing. We won’t slow down the spread unless we take radical measures,” Ethiopian doctor Senait Fisseha, adviser to the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said on Sunday.

Amid the fear the reality could be much worse, the African powerhouses – until recently vibrant transit points with Europe and Asia – have taken drastic measures in the last 48 hours to roll out travel bans, the closure of religious services and revoke visas.

Kenya, with three confirmed cases, on Sunday vetoed the entry of travelers from any country affected by Covid-19.

Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Ethiopia also ordered the closure of schools and banned public meetings.

The most recent four cases confirmed on Monday were in Somalia, Liberia, Tanzania and Benin. As all previous reported infections, the people affected were either European or Asian or had been in one of the affected countries abroad.

“It is concerning that we are now dealing with internal transmission of the virus. This situation calls for an extraordinary response. There can be no half measures,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa warned on Sunday in a speech to address the nation.

Moments later, Ramaphosa declared the national state of disaster for the coronavirus and announced the veto on visitors from the United States, United Kingdom, Italy and other high-risk countries. The measure will be come into effect on Wednesday,

The South African president also announced the closure of schools and the prohibition of gatherings of more than 100 people.

He also encouraged his fellow citizens to greet each other with their elbows and maintain good personal hygiene in order to avoid a spike in the 62 registered infections, the highest figure on the continent second only to Egypt which has 126 cases.

Morocco has imposed strict measures to combat the virus with an airspace shutdown, putting an end to commercial flights to all destinations in the world, in addition to closing schools, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, theaters and all other leisure venues.

Algeria closed air and maritime links with all European countries on Monday.

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