Four more African nations confirm coronavirus, new controls put in place

There is concern among specialists about the ability of some African nations to meet the challenges posed by the virus

epa08216006 A worker disinfects the cabin of an Ethiopian Airlines' aircraft at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 13 February 2020. Despite growing pressure to suspend its flights to China, Africa's largest air carrier refuses to do so saying that the airline will 'stand with Chinese people' and 'we should not isolate China', according to the Ethiopian media. Dozens of airlines across the globe has suspended their services to the country.  EPA/STR

Mauritania, Rwanda, Seychelles and Central African Republic confirmed their first coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing to 23 the number of African countries that have reported positive tests for the virus.

Moving swiftly to contain its spread, Rwanda, Senegal, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco and Kenya announced tougher control measures, including bans on public gatherings, halting flights and closing schools and universities.

Three days after the World Health Organisation described the outbreak as a pandemic, there is concern among health specialists about the ability of some African nations to meet the logistical and financial challenges posed by the fast-spreading virus.

Borders are porous and many nations have extremely poor health infrastructure. Some countries, such as Somalia, are fighting insurgencies while others, such as South Sudan, have high levels of malnutrition.

But governments are implementing preventive steps to try to keep the virus at bay.

"To prevent the outbreak entering in Madagascar, all flights connecting Madagascar to Europe are suspended for 30 days," the country's President Hery Rajaonarimampianina said in a statement.

Madagascar, one of the world's poorest nations, where malnutrition is rife and outbreaks of deadly diseases are common, will also suspend air links to the nearby islands of Reunion and Mayotte, he said.

The East African nation of Rwanda, which registered its first coronavirus case on Saturday, announced hours later that schools and universities would be closed for two weeks starting from Monday.

The Health Ministry also called for all places of worship to close their doors and for large gatherings such as weddings and sport events to be postponed.

In West Africa, Senegal announced schools and universities would stop classes and cancelled all religious festivals. So far, Senegal has reported 21 cases.

The United Nations said that as of Friday, 39 countries had closed schools worldwide, affecting more than 420 million children and young people.

Other nations suspended flights.

Authorities in Kenya, which confirmed its first case on Friday, banned all big public events and said they would restrict foreign travel. Some private schools said they would close down from next week.

Kenya is East Africa’s richest economy, the regional headquarters for many multinationals and a major regional transit hub.

In North Africa, Morocco suspended flights from 21 countries on Saturday. So far, Morocco has confirmed 13 cases.

Most cases reported on the continent so far are foreigners or locals who travelled abroad. Rapid testing and quarantines have been put in place to limit transmission.