Newswire: Coronavirus reaches African shores – but numbers remain low

South African President Ramaphosa demonstrating greeting by elbow

Mar. 16, 2020 (GIN) – Only a few weeks ago, African leaders were breathing a sigh of relief as the new coronavirus skipped the continent to lodge in Italy, Spain and other European countries.
“Whether it’s a matter of faulty detection, climatic factors or simple fluke, the remarkably low rate of coronavirus infection in African countries, with their fragile health systems, continues to puzzle,” said Amadou Alpha Sall, head of the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal.
Then a test turned up one positive and then another, giving signs of a new crisis emerging in at least 30 of Africa’s 54 countries, officials said this week.
The most worrying confirmation of a first case came from Somalia, with one of the continent’s weakest health systems after nearly three decades of conflict. Tanzania, Liberia and Benin also announced their first cases.
Moving with all deliberate speed, African nations began imposing travel restrictions as most confirmed cases came from abroad. Algeria cut off all air and sea contact with Europe, and Botswana barred travelers from 18 high-risk countries. French citizens visiting South Africa have been urged to leave as soon as possible.
“Countries like South Korea and China have managed to control this outbreak,” commented Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for Africa, World Health Organization. “We are learning… Limiting contact between people when you have local transmission is a good thing to do…
“The South African government is striking a good balance,” she added. “Gatherings of people increase the chances of infections spreading. But we must have a balance… I think 100 [maximum number of people allowed to gather in South Africa] is a reasonable number…
“Greeting, hugging, kissing – no!” Dr. Moeti said. “Even elbow bumps require you to come close to somebody… Smile and bow instead… it’s a good thing to do.”
“The reality is this,” said South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, commenting on the 62 documented cases, all from abroad. “Individuals that have been infected thus far are people who can afford going on holiday abroad or they travel for business. Those individuals also have accommodation for self-quarantine.
“However, when this outbreak starts affecting our poor communities where families do not have enough rooms or spaces to quarantine those affected, we will experience a crisis.”
The WHO says it has now shifted from “readiness” to “response” mode on the continent with 147 confirmed cases in 15 countries.

Newswire: African students trapped in China as home countries deny re-entry

African students in China

Mar. 2, 2020 (GIN) – The coronavirus is spreading fast beyond its China borders, with cases now rising in parts of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Some 90,000 people have been infected in over 65 countries and 3,000 worldwide have died of Covid-19.
As soon as the virus emerged, the World Health Organization named thirteen countries in Africa (Algeria, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) at greatest risk of acquiring the virus, due to established direct links or frequent travel to and from China.
Yet few active cases have been reported in sub-Saharan Africa so far. “This is the question that everyone is asking,” said Amadou Alpha Sall, head of the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal. “Whether it’s a matter of faulty detection, climatic factors or simple fluke, the remarkably low rate of coronavirus infection in African countries, with their fragile health systems, continues to puzzle — and worry.”
Thumbi Ndung’u, director of a Durban-based research centre, SANTHE, said: “I don’t think anybody knows why Africa appears to be unscathed, possibly because there isn’t much travel to that particular part of China from Africa – back and forth.
Yet according to Quartz Africa, some 4,600 African students may be unwilling exiles, unable to return home from China for fear of contagion. Countries keeping nationals abroad include Ghana, Uganda, and Kenya. Ghana has no plans yet to repatriate its nationals. The National Union of Ghana Students called for the immediate evacuation of Ghanaians in Wuhan.
Uganda has reportedly denied repatriation to an estimated 67 Ugandan students in Wuhan.
Last week, dozens of African students staged a silent protest at Wuhan University of Science and Technology holding signs saying please, please, please bring us home. In Nigeria, local TV ran a video plea from an unnamed Nigerian student.
Hundreds of Kenyans are stuck in China. Foreign affairs secretary Macharia Kamau says that students are “safe where they are.” Kenya has only 1 doctor per 5,000 citizens and spends only 4.7 of its GDP on healthcare – well below the global average.
South Africa will be the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to evacuate its citizens from China and affected areas.
Kopo Oromeng, a Botswana student at the University of Delaware started a Change.org petition to “Evacuate African Students from Wuhan, Hubei” “What does the AU stand for, if it cannot stand for the lives of black young students at a time of need?
“Our African students in Wuhan do not deserve to be stranded for so long. We are their voice in this tragedy,” commented a signee.