Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Guinea and Mauritania all confirmed their first cases of the new coronavirus on Friday, which has allowed the disease to become established in 19 countries on the African continent.
Africa has so far been spared the rapid spread of COVID-19, which has infected at least 135,000 people and killed around 5,000 worldwide.
Most of the cases reported in Africa were foreigners or people who traveled abroad. Rapid tests and quarantines have been put in place to limit transmission.
But concerns are growing about the continent’s ability to manage the disease.
Cases have been reported in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, in Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia.
On Friday evening, the Mauritanian Ministry of Health declared that its first coronavirus patient was a European (nationality unspecified) who had returned to Nouakchott on March 9 and has since been in quarantine.
The number of cases in most countries is always in single digits.
On Friday, Senegal confirmed 11 new cases, bringing the total to 21 countries in West Africa. His health ministry said 16 had been infected by the same man who returned from Italy.
Friday, Kenya is the richest economy in East Africa and a hub for global business and the United Nations, while Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa, with 109 million of people. Addis Ababa and Nairobi are regional transit hubs.
In Nairobi, the Kenyan authorities have banned all major public events and have declared that they will restrict travel abroad. The mayor of Addis Ababa urged citizens to avoid close personal contact, but the Ethiopian health minister said there were no plans to cancel the flights.
Travelers get sick
Kenyan Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said the country’s first case, a 27-year-old Kenyan, was diagnosed on Thursday after returning home via London on March 5.
He said the government had found most of the people she had been in contact with, including the other passengers on her flight, and that 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.
The first case from Guinea was an employee of the European Union delegation who had become self-isolated after her discomfort upon her return from Europe, said the EU delegation.
The first confirmed case of coronavirus in Sudan was a man who died Thursday in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the health ministry said. He had visited the United Arab Emirates in the first week of March.
Stop the spread
Kenyan Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said the government had suspended all public gatherings, sporting events, open-air religious meetings and events “of a huge public nature”. Schools will remain open but interschool events have been suspended.
Public transport operators must install hand sanitizers in their vehicles and clean them regularly, Kagwe said, while travel abroad would be limited.
Shortly after the announcement, buyers at a Nairobi supermarket were buying carts of basic products such as cornmeal and water, as well as hand sanitizers and soap.
Kenya Airways suspended flights to China last month and Thursday added Rome and Geneva to the list of suspended destinations.
Kenya, which relies heavily on Asian imports, has experienced supply chain disruptions and declining tourism, an important source of hard currency and jobs.
“We are going to be hit hard,” Tourism Minister Najib Balala told reporters.
The Nairobi Stock Exchange suspended trading in the afternoon after the main NSE 20 stock index fell more than 5% after the announcement.
Mauritius, an island nation off the coast of East Africa whose economy depends on tourism and financial services, has not yet reported a case of COVID-19, but said it offers liquidity to banks to support businesses in difficulty affected by the impact of the virus and cuts in banks’ compulsory cash reserves.