Two French nationals have tested positive for coronavirus in Senegal

The Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal is one of two places in Sub Saharan Africa with full screening for coronavirus
The Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal is one of two places in Sub Saharan Africa with full screening for coronavirus
Image: REUTERS/Christophe Van Der Perre
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Senegal has confirmed it has two confirmed cases of coronavirus with two French nationals in the West African country.

It makes it only the second Sub Saharan African country with Nigeria to have confirmed cases. With coronavirus Covid-19 confirmed cases having passed the 90,000 mark with over 3,100 fatalities and cases in over 71 countries, public health experts have noted Africa’s low infection rates to date which has helped allay some fears of the impact of major outbreak in countries with relatively “fragile” health infrastructure.

As various African countries strengthen their coronavirus detection mechanisms, Senegal is relatively well-placed as one of first sub Saharan African countries with the capacity to screen for the disease.

The first patient in Senegal is a French national who has lived with his wife and two children in Senegal for more than two years. He came back to Dakar on Feb. 26 on a flight from Marseilles by the Senegalese national carrier, Air Senegal. He had been on vacation and had also spent some time in a ski resort in Nîmes, in the South of France. He was seen at a private medical center a few days later when he developed throat pain, headaches and fever. Samples sent to the Pasteur institute in Dakar came back positive on Tuesday.

The second confirmed case as per the Senegalese ministry of Health communique is an 80-year-old man, a French resident from the Sarcelles suburb of Paris who arrived in Senegal on Saturday and got tested on Tuesday. A Gambian national who flew in from Spain had also been tested for the virus, but results came back negative. Both French nationals have been quarantined at the Center for Tropical diseases in Fann, Dakar.

The two cases in Dakar closely mirror the recent coronavirus case in Nigeria—that of an Italian national living in Nigeria, who had come back to the country from vacation in Italy. Globally, Italy and France are the 4th and 6th ranking in terms of number of coronavirus infections with over 2000 and 200 confirmed cases respectively.

While much of the early caution about protection from coronavirus transmission had focused on curtailing travel to and from China and the increasing trade links between China and Africa, there’s an increasing realization Africa’s long-running and closer links with Europe may be a more significant source of vulnerability.

The mood in the country is cautiously optimistic with most people hoping that this will be one of the few isolated cases and the government being quick to announce any changes to allay people’s fears. Meanwhile there is a flurry of activity on media and social media with the expected proliferation of fake news and others trying to dispel myths.

Most memes and videos circulating (predominantly in Wolof) are taking a light-hearted approach to the issue showing that the general public is not yet fearful. Less than a few hours after the announcement of Senegal’s first coronavirus infection, musical comedy duo, Jaaw Ketchup, released a music video both educating people on how to protect themselves from the virus, but also questioning president Macky Sall for “allowing the white people to bring the virus to Senegal.”

Efforts are currently underway to identify and screen those who were on the same flights or who came into close contact with the patients.