Africa: Volume of air traffic connections puts Egypt, South Africa, Algeria at highest risk of importing coronavirus COVID-19 to continent

Coronavirus

Egypt, Algeria and Republic of South Africa are the African countries most at risk for coronavirus COVID-19 importation in the continent, due to high air traffic with China.

However, they said countries found to be at moderate risk — including Nigeria and Ethiopia — are less prepared and more vulnerable to a potential outbreak, suggesting a need for support to handle future imported cases.

“Algeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Nigeria were part of the 13 top priority countries identified by the WHO on the basis of their direct links and volume of travel to China. Egypt, which we estimated to be at highest risk, was not part of that list, although Cairo was identified as the African airport with the highest passenger volume from the affected areas (in China),” said The Lancet, a medical journal.

So far, Africa has reported only two positive cases; one each in Egypt and Cameroon. While the number of positive cases remain only two, experts fear that a potential COVID-19 outbreak in Africa could lead to a huge catastrophe due to weak health systems which are already burdened by a number of other outbreaks. China is Africa’s leading commercial partner and there is significant travel between the nation and the continent.

“The risk and likelihood of getting an outbreak is very, very high,” another Lancet report quoted Ambrose Talisuna, the WHO Africa team lead for emergency preparedness. This paper further said a lot needed to be done to ensure preparedness on the continent. “Some countries remain ill-equipped. Some are without the diagnostic capacity for rapid testing for the virus; thus, if cases are imported, tests will need to be done abroad, which might critically increase the delay,” the paper said.

After the outbreak, many African countries introduced flight bans. Seven African countries – South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia – increased screening at their airports. Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority put in place a high level of vigilance by airlines. Ghana and Ethiopia too have taken similar steps. A few African airlines have stopped their services to China.

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