Four government ministers have contracted coronavirus in Burkina Faso and it’s spreading rapidly

L-R Burkina Faso foreign affairs minister Alpha Barry; mines minister Idani Oumarou
L-R Burkina Faso foreign affairs minister Alpha Barry; mines minister Idani Oumarou
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Burkina Faso is one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus on the continent. With 75 confirmed cases, it is Sub-Saharan Africa’s second most affected country after South Africa. Just a few days ago it had fewer than 20 cases.

The virus is now ravaging the country’s political class with four key ministers confirmed to be infected. The minister of Mines and Quarries, Oumarou Idani, has become the latest to have tested positive for the virus joining a growing list of colleagues. The country’s foreign affairs minister Alpha Barry has also tested positive as have the ministers of education and interior.

Idani tested positive after leading a government delegation to a mining conference in Toronto earlier this month. Canada has recorded nearly 1,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 12 deaths.

On Wed. Mar. 18, Burkina Faso became the first in Sub-Saharan Africa to record a novel coronavirus death. Burkina Faso’s leading opposition party announced that the patient was one of its lawmakers and vice-president of the national assembly, Rose-Marie Compaore. In all, three people have died in the country because of Covid-19, according to authorities.

Coronavirus couldn’t have come at a worse time for this West African country. Along with neighboring Sahelian countries, Mali and Niger, it is at the forefront of battling a brutal militant insurgency

The insurgency has left many parts of the north of the country ungovernable and killed hundreds. Earlier this year, parliament passed a law allowing for the arming of civilians to help fight the militants who have links with global terror groups.

Though Burkina Faso is one of the continent’s fast-growing economies it is coming from a low base and has one of the lowest UN human development index values in the world, coming in at 183rd out of 189 countries. Like many Sub-Saharan Africa countries it will likely struggle to cope with a major viral outbreak.

The virus’ spread is beginning to spread across the continent according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which on Sunday morning had identified 1,117 cases in 42 of Africa’s 54 countries. There have been 33 deaths across the continent.

While the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus on the continent is still small, relative to population size, there are concerns that weak health systems in many countries and the nature of informal housing in cities could cause the virus to spread further and cause many deaths.

This week, the Ethiopian-born head of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned African countries to prepare for the worst. 

“In other countries, we have seen how the virus actually accelerates after a certain tipping point so the best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst and prepare today…I think Africa should wake up, my continent should wake up,” he said at a news conference.

Many African countries have implemented strict travel restrictions on people coming from the worst affected areas such as Europe and North America in a bid to slow down transmission rates.

Africa’s most populous city, Lagos, has is in the process of trying to implement a lockdown while Guinea looks set to carry on with a controversial referendum on Sunday.

Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech and innovation in your inbox