The number of confirmed coronavirus cases across Africa are starting to spike.
The discovery of nine new cases in Algeria yesterday (Mar. 5) means the country has now seen its cases more than double this week, taking its total to 17. It follows a flurry of new cases confirmed on the continent: South Africa’s health ministry has confirmed the country’s first case while Senegal’s case count is now up to four, with the discovery of two recent cases. Across the continent, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases now stands at 27 but, significantly, no fatalities have been recorded so far.
Algeria’s sharp rise in confirmed cases will likely heighten fears about a broader outbreak across northern Africa and possibly across the rest of the continent. So far, north African countries appear to be particularly at risk as they account for a majority of the confirmed cases. One critical factor could be the region’s proximity to, and ties with, European and the Middle Eastern countries with confirmed coronavirus cases. Most north African countries have sizable immigrant populations in Europe.
Algeria’s health ministry says the nine new cases confirmed yesterday were all from a family which, last month, hosted relatives from France who have now tested positive for the virus. France has already recorded 285 cases and four fatalities.
Infections in other African countries also raise alarm to vulnerability via European travel. Senegal’s recent cases are three French nationals and a British citizen while Nigeria’s index case was identified as an Italian business traveler.
Despite African governments being proactive in deploying cautionary measures and leaning on the lessons of the devastating Ebola outbreaks, there is still significant worry that a full-blown outbreak on the continent could wreak havoc given weak and underfunded public health systems and infrastructure.
But while most of the continent contemplates the reality of dealing with one viral outbreak, the Democratic Republic of Congo appears on the cusp of ending another. Yesterday, the last Ebola patient being treated in the country was discharged, marking a major step in ending a 20-month long outbreak which has killed over 2,200 people.
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