AFRICA has suffered a 40 per cent rise in coronavirus cases and deaths in the past 10 days amid worrying signs the disease is set to take off there.
The continent is banking on aggressive screening and testing strategies as their best defence against Covid-19.
After a slow start, the sudden rise – to more than 30,000 cases – and a similar increase in the number of deaths – to 1,374 – has worried specialists.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of 10 million cases on the continent within three to six months – however, the number could be lower if outbreaks are swiftly contained.
‘We are at the beginning in Africa,’ Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said last week.
More than 30,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the 54 countries of Africa, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said.
The report issued on Sunday showed there have been 1,374 deaths in Africa. Only two African countries have not reported any cases of the disease – the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa and Comoros, the small Indian Ocean islands.
South Africa has the continent’s most Covid-19 cases with 4,361. They are conducting up to 10,000 tests every day in a bid to find and isolate the disease.
The number of cases in South Africa is followed closely by three countries in North Africa: Egypt with 4,319 cases, Morocco, with 3,897 and Algeria with 3,256 cases.
Despite the fact some of the worst effects may be mitigated by the relative youth of many on the continent, others are more vulnerable due to malnutrition or HIV.
Health care systems lacking resources will also struggle to cope with the huge surge of those infected and many countries with populations in the millions have only a very small number of ventilators.
Due to patchy testing, it has been hard to paint a full picture of the spread of the disease in Africa.
Djibouti has recorded 98.6 cases per 100,000 people, the highest prevalence on the continent.
But the tiny country has conducted just over 10,000 tests, as many as neighbouring Ethiopia, which has a population of more than 100 million.
Things have been made more difficult by the fact that in Africa social distancing is not always practical because of so many dense and poor neighbourhoods.
Last week President Cyril Ramaphosa – who imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in South Africa four weeks ago – announced a phased recovery of economic activity.
The president said in a televised address: ‘We cannot take action today that we will deeply regret tomorrow but our people need to eat. They need to earn a living.’ He also announced a social and economic relief package worth £21bn.
However, there are still fears of a new wave of infections with winter on its way.
It is hoped that the testing strategy will allow the continent to reduce lockdown measures so people can continue to earn a living.
However, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said most countries have a ‘very limited’ and ‘very strained’ testing capacity.
In the two months since the continent began mobilising to fight the outbreak, fewer than 500,000 tests have been conducted on a population of 1.3 billion.
The UN says 74 million test kits and 30,000 ventilators would be needed by the continent.