South Africa at serious coronavirus risk as Africa struggles to deal with the deadly disease


Egypt, Algeria and South Africa are at high risk of suffering from the deadly coronavirus, a study released Wednesday suggested.

The Lancet medical journal reported that the three African countries were at particular risk because of higher levels of travel and trade with China, where the COVID-19 virus first arose.

Egypt's health ministry announced last week the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in Africa — a foreigner whose nationality was not revealed.

"African countries have recently strengthened their preparedness to manage importations of COVID-19 cases," said study author Dr Vittoria Colizza, of France's Sorbonne university.

These include temperature screening at ports of entry, recommendations to avoid travel to China and improved health information provided to health professionals and the general public.

However, she said "some countries remain ill-equipped" to deal with the threat and more needed to be done with surveillance and rapid identification of suspected cases, patient isolation and contact tracing.

While almost three-quarters of African countries have an influenza pandemic preparedness plan, most are outdated and considered inadequate. Fortunately, Egypt, Algeria and South Africa have "the most prepared health systems in the continent", the report found.

The study suggested other countries – among them Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya – would all need support with detecting and handling imported cases of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, when Margaret Ntale Namusisi’s three daughters called her in Uganda to say they were being quarantined at their university in Wuhan, China, because of the coronavirus outbreak, she sent money and told them: “Run very fast and do shopping.”

Valeria, Veronica and Vivian did just that. But nearly one month on, with no help from their government, they are now under lockdown in a crowded apartment with orders to stay indoors with the windows closed. Food, funds and morale are running low. “They are traumatised,” said Namusisi, who wakes up at 3am every day to talk to her daughters over the Chinese messaging service WeChat.

“They ask, has Uganda given up on us?” Countries across the world have flown their nationals home from China’s quarantined Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak of the virus that since January has infected more than 75,400 people and killed more than 2,236.

But no sub-Saharan African country has done so, leaving thousands stranded. Reporters spoke to families from Cameroon, Uganda, Senegal and Ethiopia with similar tales of frustration. Many have set up associations to pressure their governments to act, through letters and petitions.

Governments across Africa have said they plan to send money to students to help with expenses. However many, including Senegal and Uganda, say they do not have the resources to look after coronavirus patients at home, and their nationals would be safer in China, where authorities have reported a dramatic drop in new cases in Hubei.

Many African nations are nervous about a little-known virus breaching their borders. Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2013 and 2016. An ongoing outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo has killed more than 2,300.

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