A handful of countries in Africa are at a high risk of importing the new coronavirus because of the volume of air traffic between those countries and China, a new model shows. But some aren’t well-prepared to deal with infections if they arrive.
Right now, Africa only has one confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, after a person in Egypt tested positive for the virus last week. But global public health experts have been concerned about the potential for a wider spread in African countries.
“Our greatest concern is about the potential for spread in countries with weaker health systems,” Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said in a press conference at the start of February. If the virus arrives in a country already strained by other diseases — for example, Congo, which is still fighting an Ebola outbreak — it will be even harder to control.
Early in the month, only two African countries — Senegal and South Africa — had the laboratory capability to test people for the new coronavirus. The WHO distributed testing kits, and by the end of this week, 40 countries are expected to be able to run tests on suspected cases.
China has spent the past decade investing in and strengthening its economic relationship with Africa, which pushed the number of flights between them up by over 600 percent during that same time period.
Despite that jump, there are still more flights from China to Europe than to Africa. That means it’s still more likely that air travel routes would bring the virus to Europe, and current case numbers in both places reflect that. There are 47 cases in Europe, for example, compared with one in Africa. Europe, though, is better able to respond.
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