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Africa has been spared so far from coronavirus. Why?

Published: 17th Feb, 2020

Some 24 countries apart from China have registered cases of the coronavirus, now officially named Covid-19. None of them is in Africa, despite the increasingly tight links between the two regions.


Some 24 countries apart from China have registered cases of the coronavirus, now officially named Covid-19. None of them is in Africa, despite the increasingly tight links between the two regions.


  • Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). 
  • A novel coronavirus (nCoV)is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.  

Chinese in Africa:

  • About 2 million Chinese live and work on the African continent.
  • Africans are also increasingly visiting China for business and study.
  • Before the novel coronavirus outbreak — which is centred on China’s Hubei region and its provincial capital of Wuhan — about eight flights a day operated between China and African nations.
  • Chinese travellers made up the biggest group of customers on Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest carrier.
  • This booming travel between China and Africa is a possible route for transmission of the new coronavirus, which has killed 1,369 people and infected 46,997 globally, according to the latest WHO figures.

Limited testing

  • A simple explanation could be that the continent simply hasn’t had the ability to detect cases up until now.
  • As of late last week, only two African countries — Senegal and South Africa — had laboratories capable of testing and confirming samples for the virus.
  • This situation has changed. Medical teams from more than a dozen African countries met in Senegal last week to learn how the diagnose the new virus.
  • Now 19 African nations are able to test for Covid-19, including Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and Sierra Leone.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has also identified 13 priority countries in Africa with strong links to China and told DW it has dispatched experts to eight of these to help coordinate preparedness efforts.
  • The priority countries have all introduced screenings at airports, as well as some seaports, according to the WHO.
  • In Sierra Leone, more than 30 Chinese who arrived from China last week are under quarantine in Freetown.

Too warm for COVID-19?

  • Another theory is that the continent is too warm for the Covid-19 virus to thrive.
  • Coronaviruses, which include some of the viruses responsible for the common cold and flu, can show something called seasonality — that is, the peak and wane depending on the season.
  • Many cold and flu viruses peak in winter, for example; the droplets sneezed and coughed out by people spread more easily in winter’s cold dry air and when people are crowded inside together.
  • They then die down in warmer weather.
  • “When the season is warmer and more humid, the droplets transmitting the [flu virus] tend to fall out of the air more quickly, therefore limiting its transmission.
  • Tropical countries aren’t immune from seasonality, with flu peaking in the dry season in countries like Cameroon.
  • However, not all coronaviruses spread through respiratory droplets and Boum cautions that it is too early to tell if Covid-19 is transmitted in a similar fashion.

‘Doubt a big outbreak in Africa’

  • But even if the coronavirus makes its way to Africa, It doesn’t believe the continent will be as hard hit as China.
  • Droplet diseases don’t seem to be as big an issue in Africa. SARS, a respiratory disease that is also a coronavirus, spread through 26 countries in 2003 but failed to gain a hold in Africa.
  • Influenza epidemics are also less intense on the continent.
  • In addition, in Africa people generally don’t live crammed together in such densely populated areas and they also spend a lot more time out-of-doors in Africa than they do in northern countries.

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