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Now, with 19 African countries facing COVID-19, several governments have taken serious measures to mitigate and manage the situation, such as travel restrictions, medical examinations of entry routes, rapid tests and measures of social distancing.
A previously unknown disease caused by the life-threatening coronavirus, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11. As of March 13, the virus has claimed the lives of 4,995 worldwide, according to the WHO.
On March 14, WHO reports a total of 215 cases across Africa and five reported deaths.
The following nations reported more than 15 cases of COVID-19: Algeria (37), Egypt (93), Senegal (19), South Africa (24), and Tunisia (16). There are countries with fewer cases: Burkina Faso (2), Cameroon (2), Ivory Coast (1), Democratic Republic of the Congo (2), Ethiopia (2), Gabon (1), Guinea (1), Kenya (1 ), Mauritania (1), Morocco (7), Namibia (2), Nigeria (2), Sudan (1) and Togo (1).
Almost all cases of the virus in Africa are traced to travel through Europe, which has now become the epicenter of the pandemic. This has prompted many African nations to make the historic decision to place travel restrictions on travelers from nations with a high number of COVID-19 cases.
For example, Uganda took the unprecedented step of restricting travel from the 16 countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases including China, France, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Uganda has suspended flights from high risk Coronavirus hit countries including USA, UK, China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Spain, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Austria, and Malaysia.
– Africa Facts Zone (@AfricaFactsZone) March 12, 2020
Uganda has suspended flights from countries at high risk of coronavirus, including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Austria and Malaysia.
Meanwhile, the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, which is part of the United Republic of Tanzania, was reported to have announced that it would restrict charter flights from Italy, where COVID-19 cases are on the rise. But these restrictions did not apply to China, a country that conducts significant trade and business with Tanzania. Kenya has also disrupted flights from Italy to coastal resorts in Mombasa.
Nigeria did not impose any travel restrictions but strongly recommended not to travel to countries with high levels of COVID-19 infections such as China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. Additionally, West Africa has suggested a 14-day voluntary isolation for travelers from these nations.
Liberia, where no cases of COVID-19 are reported but with extensive experience in Ebola, highly contagious, imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine in observation centers for those who came from Germany, where cases of COVID-19 are increasing rapidly. Similarly, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is applying a voluntary 14-day quarantine to everyone who arrived from France, Germany, Italy, and China.
“The Ebola epidemic in 2014 led to flight closings, visa bans and quarantine regimes that affected thousands of travelers in the three West African countries who were at the center of the outbreak,” according to Globe and Mail.
A netizen called this moment – when African governments are in a position to ban travel from Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom – “a historic turning point”:
The turning point of history has arrived pic.twitter.com/lrZ5vepP8U
– Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) March 13, 2020
African countries decide to restrict European visitors amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The turning point in history has arrived.
Mobilization and preparation
As the coronavirus continues to spread in Africa, citizens and governments have debated the ability of African nations to cope with the crisis in health care, disaster preparedness, communication and response.
But “many African health officials are irritated at the suggestion that they are not adequately addressing the crisis, they say there has been an unprecedented level of mobilization by COVID-19, as well as a growing stock of experience to draw on,” according to the BBC.
Once the first cases were reported in Ethiopia and Kenya, countries whose capitals serve as important transportation hubs, these nations immediately banned congregations and urged citizens to practice “social distancing” – a term used to describe the reduction of Contacts with others and maintaining a distance of at least six feet (plus or minus two meters) if they had to interact – to decrease the spread of the virus.
When Nigeria alerted the world to the existence of its COVID-19 patient zero, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus praised the Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC) for its transparency and speed. in spreading the information:
Thank you @NCDCgov & the Government of #Nigeria for the swift & transparent way you have shared the # COVID19 sequence from the country's first case. This a true act of solidarity and an important step in stopping the #coronavirus from spreading further. https://t.co/6fv15oMDTm
– Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) March 7, 2020
Nigeria has published the first African SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence, from the case of COVID-19 in Nigeria
This was accomplished in collaboration with:
Nigerian Institute for Medical Research
African Center of Excellence in Infectious Disease Genomics
Lagos University Hospital
With coordination of:
Lagos State Ministry of Health
Nigerian Center for Disease Control
Nigerian World Health Organization
Thanks to the Nigerian Center for Disease Control and the Government of Nigeria for the quick and transparent way in which they have spread the sequence of COVID-19 since the first case in the country. This is a solidarity act and an important step to stop the growing spread of the coronavirus.
In Tanzania, where no cases had been reported as of March 14, President John Magufuli encouraged social distancing – which is a great challenge in a region known for its social norms of close and community contact.
When President Magufuli encountered opposition leader Malim Seif Sharif, they set the example by greeting each other with a “foot crash” (N of T: “Wuhan Shake is the new way of greeting each other adopted in China to establish contact without putting health at risk) –A new greeting in a nation accustomed to strong and firm handshakes:
Tz President Magufuli (R) exchanges foot greeting with opposition pol Seif Sharif Hamad to promote “no handshake” in these #Coronavirus times. A critic says “anti-democratic Magufuli must have thanked COVID-19,‘ cos it gives him the perfect excuse NOT to shake Opposition hands ” pic.twitter.com/0qLsNIgXlB
– Charles Onyango-Obbo (@ cobbo3) March 5, 2020
Tanzanian President Magufuli (right) exchanges foot greetings with opposition leader Seif Sharid Hamad to promote “no handshake” in these times of coronavirus. One critic says “the undemocratic Magufuli should thank COVID-19 for giving him the perfect excuse for NOT shaking hands with the opposition.”
It has also been reported that Tanzania has preventively identified three “isolation centers” in the northern, eastern and western regions in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak. We have stocked many thermometers and trained over 2,000 healthcare workers, ”according to the BCC. However, it is not clear where these centers are located.
Tanzanian Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu issued an official statement on March 14 that six travelers from Denmark and Norway en route from Kenya to Tanzania have been screened at Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha, Tanzania. One had all the symptoms of COVID-19: high fever, cough, and fatigue. Authorities decided to isolate the entire group and then take him to the Rufaa hospital for group evaluation. All were negative to COVID-19 and were free to continue their activities.
Meanwhile, preventively in Rwanda, with no reported cases, the Government has instituted public handwashing measures at transportation hubs in Kigali:
Rwanda keeping coronavirus at bay with campaign of public handwashing https://t.co/8rT7wk4uwL
– David Toovey (@DavidToovey) March 12, 2020
Rwanda has the coronavirus at bay with a public hand-washing campaign.
Rwanda protects itself against the spread of the coronavirus and has provided the capital with portable hand washes for people to wash their hands at bus stops, restaurants, banks and shops in the capital Kigali..
Rwanda controls the coronavirus with a public hand-washing campaign.
Browse the full picture
COVID-19 figures are speculated to be low in Africa (as in other parts of the world) because adequate evidence is not yet available.
However, 33 of the 47 sub-Saharan nations currently have testing facilities – representing a dramatic increase since January 2020, when only South Africa and Senegal had that capacity.
Senegal, with only one case reported so far, is supposed to be able to assess citizens in less than four hours, while in other countries, such as the United States, it can reportedly take up to a week to get the results.
According to the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), in early February, Senegal also trained 16 African laboratories in the diagnosis of COVID-19. The training sessions took place in Dakar, the capital. In South Africa additional training was provided to 12 other African laboratories
The Nigerian NCDC is daily publishing reports with COVID-19 contact tracking updates, and has also instituted a free phone line and WhatsApp number for citizens with questions related to COVID-19.
The Southern African Development Community also held an “extraordinary” session in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on March 9 to discuss preparedness and response to COVID-19, and has urged members to be prepared to launch their national emergency plans.
Despite these measures, many African nations are fighting for adequate medical care for all.
Zimbabwe's Everjoice Win tweeted some serious questions about who might be left behind in this crisis:
How do you self-quarantine in an informal-settlement? Or in a household full of people? How do you ‘stock-up’, when you live from hand to mouth? What will business closures mean for daily / hourly waged workers? Asking for a continent.
– Everjoice Win (@EverjoiceWin) March 14, 2020
How can you quarantine yourself in an illegal settlement? Or in a crowded house? How can you stock up if you live daily? What will the business shutdown mean for daily / hourly salaried workers? I ask for a continent.
In Tanzania, for example, 25 million people still do not have access to clean water – essential for washing hands, to stop the spread of COVID-19.
However, the various coordinated responses in cases where COVID-19 has appeared across the continent demonstrate that experience and determination go hand in hand.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this post included a screenshot of the Everjoice Wins tweet, but their Twitter account is currently unavailable.