WHO: Africa could be next coronavirus epicentre

Africa could become the next epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned citing data that there was a sharp rise in cases in the past week. So far there are about 19,000 reported cases and up to 1,000 deaths across Africa, says the virus appears to be spreading away from capitals to the countryside. The WHO warns that the continent does not have enough ventilators to deal with a pandemic.

North Africa is the worst affected region as Algeria, Egypt and Morocco had more than 2,500 cases and over 100 deaths each. Algeria’s deaths alone were 348 by Friday. Elsewhere, South Africa has also had more than 2,000 cases, with 48 deaths, while the continent's most populous nation, Nigeria, has 442 cases and 13 confirmed deaths out of a population of some 200 million.

According to WHO Africa director Dr Matshidiso Moeti, international travel played a part. "If you look at the proportion of people who travel, Africa has fewer people who are traveling internationally," she said cited by the BBC. But now that the virus is in within Africa, the organisation is acting under the assumption that it will spread just as quickly as elsewhere.

The WHO has witnessed the virus spreading from big cities to "the hinterland" in South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana, Dr Moeti said. There are around 15 African countries where the virus has not spread far so, if these countries adopt strong social distancing measures, they could contain the virus, she added.

Provisional projections from the WHO suggest that more than 10 million people could be infected in the next 3-6 months, but that figure doesn't take into account public health measures that are being put in place. If Covid-19 is able to take hold on the continent, the consequences could be far more devastating than we've seen in Europe and the US as in Africa there are only around five intensive care beds available for every one million people in most African countries, compared with around 4,000 beds for every million people in Europe.

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