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COVID-19 spreads further across Africa, first death recorded in Burkina Faso

The coronavirus spread further across Africa on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 with Burkina Faso reporting its first death and new cases found in at least three more countries.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. Photo credit: pbs.twimg.com

Africa had for weeks been spared from the virus, but it has now been confirmed in more than half of the continent’s 54 countries.

There are concerns that African countries may struggle to contain the outbreak because of weak health systems.

The patient who succumbed to COVID-19 – the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus – in Burkina Faso was a woman who also suffered from diabetes, according to Martial Ouedraogo, the National Coordinator for the Response to the Coronavirus Epidemic.

He said at a Wednesday news conference that she had died overnight.

It is the second death in sub-Saharan Africa from the disease, following a man who passed away in Sudan last week.

Burkina Faso is among the world’s 10 poorest nations, according to the UN.

Djibouti and Zambia on Wednesday reported their first cases.

The patient in Djibouti is a Spanish special forces soldier, while a couple that just returned from a holiday in France were diagnosed with COVID-19 in Zambia, health authorities said.

“I appeal to the public not to panic as the situation is under control,” Zambian Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya said in a statement.

The Gambia late Tuesday also confirmed its first case. The 21-year-old Gambian woman had returned from Britain on Sunday and transited through Morocco, the Health Ministry said.

Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Rwanda and Tanzania all reported additional cases in their countries late Tuesday and on Wednesday.

Cases have also surged in South Africa, which on Wednesday reported its largest daily increase yet – 31 new cases – to reach a total of 116.

On the African continent that is second only to Egypt, which had reported 196 cases.

South Africa’s initial CIVID-19 cases involved people who had travelled abroad, but it is now also seeing local transmission of the disease, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

It said that a cruise ship with more than 1,500 people on board, the AidaMira, had been stranded at  the Port of Cape Town since Monday.

It said this was because six passengers were preventively tested after they were on the same flight with  a crew member from another cruise ship who later developed coronavirus-like symptoms.

All tests came back negative, Aida Cruises said on Wednesday.

Several African countries have introduced stricter measures in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.

Nigeria on Wednesday announced travel restrictions for travellers from 13 countries: China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, the U.S., Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Africa’s most populous nation also reported five new Covid-19 cases, bringing its total to eight.

Niger, meanwhile, will stop international flights and close all land borders for at least two weeks from Thursday.

Bars, nightclubs, cinemas and places of entertainment were to cease operations from Wednesday, while schools and universities will be closed from Friday, the president said on national television.

Niger’s government also banned all gatherings of more than 50 people and introduced compulsory hygiene measures in markets, shops and restaurants.

In Congo, the two chambers of parliament on Wednesday suspended activities until April 5.

President Felix Tshisekedi was expected to announce further restrictions in the evening.

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