On March 25, war-torn Libya recorded its first confirmed case of novel coronavirus, while increasing fears about the pandemic’s economic impacts sweep the African continent.
Despite theories that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) would not survive in a warmer climate, the disease has sunk its claws into Africa, threatening to seriously harm the continent’s fragile economies and vulnerable populations.
The African Union (AU) Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a series of infographics on Twitter today, March 27, confirming the number of COVID-19 cases on the continent has reached 3,243.
North Africa remains the region with the highest number of cases on the continent. The region has reported 1,249 cases, with 60 deaths, and 216 recoveries.
Egypt has the highest number of novel coronavirus patients in North Africa (495), followed by Algeria (302) and Morocco (275).
War-torn Libya has only reported one case. The spread of COVID-19 into Libya surfaced on March 25, as conflict rages on in the country’s capital.
Southern Africa has a current total of 972 confirmed cases. South Africa reports the majority, at 927 cases. The South African government has imposed a strict nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the virus, fearing that the country’s medical infrastructure will not meet the demands of a full-scale outbreak.
Western Africa, meanwhile, has reported a total 605 COVID-19 cases with the majority in Ghana (132), Senegal (105), and Cote d’Ivoire (96).
The number of cases in Eastern and Central Africa (247 and 170 respectively) remain relatively low but continue to grow.
Measures to control the pandemic
In a separate tweet, the CDC released information on travel restrictions on the continent. So far, 24 African countries have imposed full border closures and implemented a total suspension of air and maritime travel.
Morocco and South Africa are among the countries to impose the strictest travel bans and internal lockdowns. Both countries are receiving praise in international media for their responses to the pandemic.
Most states on the continent have introduced partial travel restrictions, with some banning air travel from at-risk countries and ten countries stopping air travel but leaving land and maritime borders open.
The majority of countries have also imposed a mandatory two-week quarantine for people traveling from at-risk countries.
A lack of resources
The ongoing surge in the number of cases across the continent confirms the fears of World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti.
On March 20, Moeti called on African governments to step up their response to the growing pandemic.
“It is what is done at this point that will determine the numbers who will become very ill,” he warned. Preventing millions of deaths on the continent will require “coordination, a huge effort and huge resources,” the WHO representative added.
Moeti said the WHO is collating a database of the exact number of ICU beds on the continent, and warned that the number is “extremely limited.”
Meanwhile, Director General of WHO Tedros Ghebreyesus has estimated that the number of people who have contracted the virus in Africa far exceeds the number of confirmed cases.
“In other countries we have seen how the virus actually accelerates after a certain tipping point, so best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst and prepare today,” Ghebreyesus underlined.
Health infrastructure and financial resources are not the only challenges facing Africa, the director general remarked. As COVID-19 hits vulnerable populations in war-torn countries and refugee camps it will become more and more difficult to contain, according to Ghebreyesus.
Those with chronic conditions including HIV are also vulnerable to the disease, as are children and adults suffering from malnutrition. According to the WHO, malnutrition remains “persistent,” prompting fears about how at-risk populations will fare as Africa’s number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise by the day.