How covid-19 could disrupt the Africa Cup of Nations

Egypt’s Mohamed Salah playing against Cameroon in the 2017 Afcon final.
Egypt’s Mohamed Salah playing against Cameroon in the 2017 Afcon final.
Image: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The African Cup of Nations (Afcon), the continent’s biggest and most prestigious international soccer tournament, kicks off in Cameroon on Jan. 9. But just like any other major global event these days, covid-19 threatens to cast a shadow, as numerous players and team officials test positive for the disease.

At least seven national teams have been affected, with some players and staff testing positive in Cameroon, and others before arriving in the country and therefore being left behind for isolation. The four-week tournament, featuring superstars like Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, was originally set to take place in 2021.

Last month, Europe’s top soccer teams threatened to prevent their players (like Salah) from participating in the tournament due to fears over the competition’s covid-19 health protocols.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF), organizers of Afcon, has announced safety measures to be followed by players, staff, officials, and fans. Attendances will be capped at 80% for matches involving Cameroon and, for an unspecified reason, 60% for all others; more staff and equipment will be deployed to entry points, lodging facilities, competition sites, and fan zones; and to access stadiums, people will have to be vaccinated and do rapid tests every 24 hours, or a PCR test every two days.

The 24 national teams participating in the tournament were allowed to increase their squads from the standard 23 players to 28, in case of positive tests.

Here are some of the countries and players that are facing disruptions due to covid-19 ahead of the competition.


Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Lemina are two of the latest players to test positive for covid-19. They tested positive on arrival in Cameroon . They are likely to miss out on their country’s opening match against Comoros on Jan. 10. Assistant coach Yala Anicet also tested positive.


Senegal delayed its flight to Cameroon as six players and three members of staff tested positive. The players include Nampalys Mendy, Pape Sarr, and Mame Thiam.

Burkina Faso

Players Issoufou Dayo, Dramane Nikiema, and Kylian Nikiema are isolating in Abu Dhabi after being left behind as their team traveled to Cameroon on Sunday.

Cape Verde

Coach Pedro Leitão Brito, popularly known as Bubista, is in isolation in Abu Dhabi after testing positive.


Two players have tested positive: Youssef Msakni and Seifeddine Jaziri.


Players Mark Fodya, Charles Petro, and Richard Mbulu were left behind in Saudi Arabia in isolation as the rest of the team traveled to Cameroon.

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