By Sihle Qekeleshe, Junior Sub-Editor
About 2 million Chinese people live and work on the African continent and there are more than 80,000 African students, tourists and businessmen who work and live in China. With Africa becoming the fastest-urbanizing continent globally, and China being its biggest trade partner, the risk of a Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak is high.
The first African case of Covid-19 was recently reported in Egypt and people who have been suspected of carrying the virus have been quarantined in Ethiopia, Kenya, the Ivory Coast and Botswana. Africa’s resource-dependent economies are braced for a slowdown as Covid-19 hits demand from one of its biggest buyers, China, sending oil prices lower.
To prevent the virus from spreading even further, China has had a mass shutdown in areas linked to tourism and manufacturing, which have been shaken by a ban on outbound tourists and supply chain disruption arising from factory closures. Port closures in China have caused oil importers to cancel their purchases, forcing sellers to look elsewhere for oil.
“By paralyzing the world’s largest importer and second consumer of oil, this virus attacks the heart of the global economy; China accounts for more than 16% of the world economy. With China stopped, economic activities around the world are directly and indirectly affected. As if the ‘Covid-19’ hit globalization at its heart,” former Secretary-General of APPO, Mahaman Laouan Gaya, said earlier this week.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) outlook for the increase in oil demand this year has been dramatically reduced, with China’s outbreak of coronavirus as the main driver.
“Evidently, the timing of the outbreak exacerbated the impact on transportation fuel demand in China, as it coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, as millions of Chinese return home to celebrate with family members and friends, or travel abroad,” OPEC said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised against travel restrictions and also identified 13 top priority countries in Africa (Algeria, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia), that are of higher risk due to their direct links and high volume of travel to China.
Health systems in many African countries are already struggling with their existing workload and are likely not prepared to deal with another outbreak of a highly infectious disease, so it is critical that African countries work hard to detect the virus very early.
“This disease, if it’s in Africa it’s more dramatic than if it’s in China, even though I’m not trying to minimize what’s going on in China in any way. If you look at Ebola, most of the excess deaths were caused because the health service shut down. It’s not just the direct effect, it’s also the panic, the overload, and the things that affect health workers because you’re already at very limited capacity,” Bill Gates said in a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle in February.
The WHO is in the process of equipping 29 African laboratories with kits to ensure they have the capacity to deal with the virus and also assist other countries test samples, if needed. The Organization also hopes that by the end of this month it would have sent kits to 36 African countries.
Nigeria’s Red Cross Society has placed about one million volunteers on high alert. The Society’s Secretary-General, Abubakar Ahmed Kende, said that this was to prevent the possibility of the virus spreading into the country and also contain the spiraling outbreak of Lassa fever across Nigeria.
In Tanzania, Health Minister, Ummy Mwalimu, has identified quarantine centers in the north, east and west of the country. The country has also stockpiled thermometers and more than 2,000 health workers have been trained.
A number of countries, including Kenya, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana and Botswana, have quarantined suspected cases. So far, all have tested negative for the virus.
Uganda’s Ministry of Health has reported that more than 100 people that arrived at the international airport of Entebbe were quarantined. Some were quarantined at two hospitals in Entebbe and Kampala, while others were told to stay in their homes.
African countries still have strong ties with China and Equatorial Guinea recently announced a solidarity contribution of $2 million to China over the coronavirus outbreak. The African Union has shown cooperation, support and assistance to China in the ongoing fight against the COVID-19.