WHO head tells Africa to ‘wake up’ to coronavirus threat

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Most airports screen travelers and travel restrictions are being brought across Africa

Africa must "wake up" to the threat of coronavirus and prepare for the worst, said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO).

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The continent must learn how the spread of the virus has accelerated elsewhere, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

He warned that although confirmed cases in Africa are currently low – about 640 – there is no reason for complacency.

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"Africa must wake up, my continent must wake up," said the Ethiopian, WHO's first African chief.

Health experts warn that public health systems in Africa can quickly become overwhelmed if the virus sets in, especially in overcrowded urban areas.

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Media captionBBC's Andrew Harding analyzes the impact that coronavirus could have on Africa

"The WHO recommendation is, in fact, that mass meetings should be avoided and we should do everything in our power, hoping that the worst can happen," Tedros told a news conference in Geneva, where the WHO is based. .

In Africa, 16 people died of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus: six in Egypt, six in Algeria, two in Morocco, one in Sudan and one in Burkina Faso.

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's first African chief, leads the fight against coronavirus

In South Africa, which has 116 cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster, restricting travel, closing schools, banning mass meetings and ordering bars to close or limit the number to 50.

The country has also banned all cruise ships from its ports. This is despite the fact that the tests were negative for six people on a cruise ship, that was quarantined. All 1,700 people are now free to leave the ship and return home.

Anyone who violates South Africa's coronavirus measures will be subject to a fine or even imprisonment.

Other African nations have imposed similar restrictions:

  • Lagos State, the economic center of Nigeria, banned meetings of more than 50 people and schools will close from next week
  • The most populous country in Africa, with eight cases of coronavirus, also stops flights from any country where there are more than 1,000 infections as of Saturday
  • Algeria, one of the most affected countries in Africa, closed its borders and interrupted flights
  • The president also banned mass meetings, which would affect major weekly anti-government demonstrations
  • Rwanda, which has 11 patients with Covid-19, is banning passenger flights after Friday for 30 days
  • Kenya, a deeply religious country like most of the continent, has suspended worship in some churches and mosques
  • The government also says it will manufacture its own hand sanitizer and distribute it free of charge, in an attempt to combat scarcity.
  • Liberia, who dealt with a deadly Ebola outbreak several years ago and has two reported cases of Covid-19, stopped issuing passports to prevent people from traveling and earlier this week banned people from the countries most affected by the pandemic
  • The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius banned tourists from entering for two weeks – and confirmed its first three cases: two cruise ship workers and a British tourist
  • Zambia, with two cases of Covid-19, suspended parliament and schools and university will close after Friday
  • Somalia, with one case, closed its airspace overnight
  • Uganda and Botswana, which still has no cases, will close schools from next week
  • Chad, without cases, suspends all passenger flights and closes some land borders as of midnight on Thursday.

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