Africa's COVID-19 numbers expected to rise sharply

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Africa will likely see higher numbers of coronavirus cases in coming weeks because of the likelihood some are slipping through the net, the head of a regional disease control body is quoted in Polity as saying. The virus has multiplied in Africa more slowly than in Asia or Europe, but 36 nations on the continent have now reported a total of more than 700 cases.

"We are picking (up) some people but we are also missing some people," said John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which is a branch of the African Union bloc. "The situation will get worse before it gets better because the chances are clear that people have slipped through." Nkengasong said the number of confirmed cases in Africa was expected to rise in coming days and such travel bans would delay but ultimately fail to contain the virus.

Nkengasong said testing was going to increase as more kits became available. US company Abbott Laboratories, Swiss-based Roche Diagnostics and California-based Cepheid's GeneXpert were all ramping up production, he said. The testing could be rolled out quickly through existing HIV infrastructure, he said.

The report says Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa head, was less concerned than the CDC head about missing cases. "We actually don't believe that there are large numbers of African people who are undetected and infected," she said on a teleconference with the media. Moeti said 40 African countries can now test for the virus, up from just South Africa and Senegal at the start of February.

African countries led by Nigeria and South Africa have ramped up action against COVID-19 after the continent recorded its first fatality. A report on the News24 site notes that Nigeria is shutting schools from today and limiting religious meetings in its economic hub Lagos and capital Abuja. Imposing the restrictions in chaotic and overcrowded Lagos will be a major challenge for the authorities, with the city home to so-called “megachurches” where thousands of worshippers gather each weekend.

Mauritania, which has already closed its airports to flights to and from foreign destinations and shuttered its schools, announced a night-time curfew, from 8pm to 6am, with immediate effect.

Sierra Leone said it would suspend all flights until further notice. The former UK colony was badly hit by the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak, which killed almost 4,000 people in the country. Senegal authorised six flights to pick up stranded travellers in Dakar and fly them to Paris. The government also announced that all mosques in the capital Dakar would be closed until further notice.

Uganda, host to about 1.4m asylum seekers, has blocked entry to further arrivals over the next 30 days. In the DRC, new cases were reported, all of them in the capital Kinshasa.

Burkina Faso said it had recorded the death of a 62-year-old female legislator with diabetes – sub-Saharan Africa's first fatality from the new virus. Also in the Sahel region, Chad and Niger reported their first coronavirus cases, both in men returning from abroad.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared a state of national disaster as the country anticipates the impact of the novel coronavirus despite the fact that there are no confirmed infections there. The decision was taken after a UK tourist tested positive following a trip to Victoria Falls.

A report on the News24 site notes that the proclamation bans gatherings of more than 100 people. Voice of America reports that the country's 40th independence celebrations on 18 April have been suspended along with the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair scheduled for 21 to 25 April

Citing cases that have been identified in the region, including South Africa, Mnangagwa said his government was left with no choice but to declare a national disaster. "Government has decided that the coronavirus pandemic be declared a national disaster," said Mnangagwa, adding that the declaration would enable his government to mobilise resources to respond to the pandemic.

VOA reports that by declaring the coronavirus a state of disaster, Mnangagwa announced that life as normal for his fellow citizens would drastically change, as his government called for restricted local and international travel, cancellations of social gatherings such as weddings and church services, and even annual national celebrations such as the upcoming Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) and the country's 40th independence celebrations, next month.

Despite having no recorded cases of the virus in the country, Mnangagwa said the threat of the virus had negatively impacted the country's economy. Spared from closure, however, are the country's schools which Mnangagwa announced will continue as usual until the end of the school term, in about two weeks.

Polity reports that Zambia's health ministry has confirmed its first two cases of COVID-19.

"The patients are a Zambian couple that travelled to France on a 10-day holiday," Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya is quoted in the report as saying.

Gambian authorities are searching for 14 people who broke out of an hotel where they had been quarantined as a coronavirus precaution and escaped. The group was among 32 passengers who arrived on a flight from the UK and were placed in quarantine in the hotel in the capital Banjul.

A report on the Africa Feeds site notes that Health Minister Ahmadou Lamin Samateh said that some quarantined passengers “apparently became aggressive” and fled. He added that the incident was “very, very detrimental” and was a threat to the entire nation.

A man in northern Rwanda has been arrested after a video was shared on YouTube in which he said that he had a cure for coronavirus. Marie Michelle Umuhoza, spokesperson for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, told BBC News that the man, who claimed to be a traditional healer is in custody.

She said the police would not tolerate the spreading of rumours about the pandemic and the video has been removed.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has imposed a two-day lockdown in Haut-Katanga, an area rich in copper and cobalt, after two people tested positive for the coronavirus, provincial governor Jacques Kyabula Katwe is quoted in a Mining Weekly report as saying. He said the boundaries of the south-eastern province, whose capital is the mining hub of Lubumbashi, would also be closed.

From Monday, only the military, police, medical staff and authorised civil servants will be allowed to travel round the province, he said. Otherwise, transport from trucks to bicycles and barges has been halted.

The report says the state is seeking to locate 75 people who took a plane from the national capital Kinshasa to Lubumbashi on Sunday, from which two other passengers subsequently tested positive for the virus. Those cases took the number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 30 in the DRC, and two deaths.

The presidents of Ivory Coast and Senegal, two of West Africa's largest economies, have declared states of emergency, imposing curfews and travel restrictions on their populations in response to accelerating coronavirus outbreaks. Polity reports that Senegal registered 12 new cases on Monday to take its total to 79, while Ivory Coast has recorded 25 cases.

Last week, Senegal suspended international commercial flights, and Ivory Coast shuttered nightclubs and cinemas. But in television addresses, both countries' presidents said those measures had proved inadequate.

Egypt has declared a curfew from 7 pm to 6 am for two weeks starting on Wednesday to counter the spread of coronavirus and those who violate the measure will be penalised under the country's emergency laws, reports Polity. A closure of schools and universities, which were shut on March 14 for two weeks, will be extended for a further two weeks, Prime Minster Mostafa Madbouly said.

The government has also allocated $63.69m to the Health Ministry to help it provide supplies, a statement from the cabinet office said. Egypt has confirmed 366 cases of coronavirus, including 19 deaths.

The report says it has also grounded commercial flights and shut mosques and churches.

MultiChoice is rolling out Africa-wide public service announcements and making news channels more widely available to share credible information about COVID-19. A SowetanLIVE report notes that MultiChoice Group CEO Calvo Mawela said some news channels are now available for subscribers and non-subscribers on the DStv Now app.

Mawela said CNN had also been added to DStv Family and access subscribers, and Africanews has launched on DStv Channel 417. “We have been in constant communication with health authorities such as the World Health Organisation, and we will be rolling out Africa-wide public service announcements on COVID-19,” he said.

Full Polity report

Full News24 report

Full News24 report

Full VOA report

Full Polity report

Full report on the Africa Feeds site

Full BBC News report

Full Mining Weekly report

Full Polity report

Full Polity report

Full Sowetan report

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