As the Coronavirus continues to spread, suspected cases have been reported in eight countries across continents. Therefore, it is important to gauge how vulnerable African countries are to Covid-19 and their capacity to manage an outbreak. Based on air travel, vulnerability is measured in terms of direct connections to major hubs in China. Thankfully, all flights from Hubei, the epicentre of the virus, were suspended on 23 January. However, major cities like Beijing, are experiencing a recent cluster of cases.
From Air travel data alone, Egypt has the highest “importation risk”, followed by Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. This is because Cairo International Airport receives the most travelers from areas with active transmission in China. This was proven as Egypt became the first African country to register a confirmed case of Coronavirus on 14 February.
Countries with moderate importation risk include Sudan, Angola, Tanzania, Ghana, and Kenya. Although, the health systems of these countries have different capacities to manage an outbreak. Fortunately, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has promised to provide prioritized support for added measures like improved airport screening.
Although African countries are much less vulnerable than Europe, containment and response capacity is much more limited. Experts warn that since the virus is outpacing international containment efforts, African countries need to prepare their emergency health systems.
Bracing for an Outbreak
Citing an instance of Lagos, the Nigerian commercial capital and Africa’s largest city. The city is a major node of migration for both domestic and international travelers. It also has a dense network of informal settlements, leaving it especially vulnerable to such pandemics.
Historically, lagos was able to hold its ground during the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. The disease claimed about 11,000 lives in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. However, Nigeria was able to control its outbreak. This was done by quickly identifying and containing “patient zero” after he arrived at Lagos airport, and then systematically traced all his contacts.
Consequently, the state authorities have developed an aggressive bio-security plan. In fact, the plan is currently being utilized in battling ongoing cases of Lassa fever.