Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses that cause flu-like symptoms. There are many types of coronavirus but one strain (one form of the virus) is responsible for the outbreak that started in 2019. This strain, COVID-19, was transmitted from animals to humans in China, and is now spreading through human to human transmission. As of late February 2020, 70,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide, with over 1800 deaths confirmed. Although most cases are in China and across Asia, at least one case has been confirmed in Africa and the trade and immigration links between Africa and China are likely to lead to more cases.
HOW DOES COVID-19 SPREAD?
COVID-19 has already spread from animal to human. This means that only human-to-human transmission is needed for the virus to keep spreading. Like other respiratory viruses, human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 is via droplets that are made through coughing and sneezing, and direct contact with bodily fluids.International travel means that one infected person can easily spread the virus to a new country or continent. People travel frequently from Asia and Europe to Africa for business, and this is the most likely route by which COVID-19 will spread to Africa.
A February 2020 study published in The Lancet identified which countries were most at risk by looking at air traffic between China and Africa, and which Chinese provinces the flights were coming from. The authors also looked at how ready a country’s health system was to deal with cases of COVID-19 and stop the virus spreading.
THE CHALLENGES OF COVID-19 IN AFRICA
Currently (as of 25th March 2020), South Africa, Egypt, and Algeria have the highest number of cases of Covid-19 in Africa. Many other African countries have growing numbers of cases of Covid-19. Some of these stem from travellers from abroad arriving in the countries. Some studies think that Egypt and Algeria’s high number of cases likely come from their trade connections with Europe. Others think that the high cases in Egypt, Algeria, and South Africa come from trade connections with China.
As well as importation risks, there are cultural factors that may increase the challenges of dealing with COVID-19 in Africa. Distrust of public health organisations is likely the most impactful. As seen with the 2014-1016 Ebola crisis, distrust of medical professionals, governments and international organisations (like the World Health Organisation, WHO) reduces how many people seek medical help and follow the advice provided. This leads to spreading of the virus and difficulty in treating people who become infected
WHAT ARE AFRICAN GOVERNMENTS DOING?
Many African countries have increased the screening at ports of entry in an effort to stop infected people entering the country. This includes the use of temperature screening. In accordance with WHO recommendations, travel to china has been reduced and guidelines are being circulated.
Whilst the government response is important, African citizens also have a responsibility to stop the spread of COVID-19. The most important things African citizens can do are washing their hands regularly and covering their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze. Check the international WHO advice here:
And the advice from WHO’s Africa office here:
A new strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, was transmitted from animals to humans in China. This virus has the potential to spread globally, including to Africa. Countries like Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria and Ethiopia are most at risk of COVID-19 importation. COVID-19 is less deadly than other recent viral outbreaks, such as Ebola, but can spread from human to human very quickly. This makes spread hard to contain, therefore government responses are important. African citizens also have a responsibility to reduce transmission where they can. This includes regular hand washing and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
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