Africa is stepping up its efforts to detect the coronavirus as fears mount that the continent’s first case, confirmed on Friday, could lead to a regional outbreak, and as many Chinese citizens return to Africa for work after the Chinese New Year holidays.
Countries across Africa are rushing to train health workers. Officials are also screening passengers at airports and equipping laboratories in all 54 countries to detect the virus. John Nkengasong, director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on Friday that while 16 countries currently have the ability to test for the coronavirus, another 20 will gain it by February 20.
“We are scaling up very rapidly across the continent,” he said. “As we speak here now, there is a training going on in Nairobi, Kenya, on enhanced surveillance at airports and ports of entry screening.” Over 40 countries will get that training, he said.
Dr. Nkengasong said it’s possible that more cases of coronavirus have already emerged in Africa but have not been detected because the continent has weak surveillance systems.
The Africa C.D.C. has called on governments in Africa to bring back any African students currently trapped in China under the lockdown of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Dr. Nkengasong said the situation in Wuhan could easily become “a humanitarian crisis,” just as it could in Africa.
“We are seeing what is happening in China, that even with the amount of resources, that in China it has been a struggle,” he said. “If the virus was to hit a fragile state in Africa, the concern is that the consequences would be very, very devastating.”