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COVID-19: Concerns persist as Africa’s reported cases move up to 14,225

Africa has passed the grim milestone of 14,225 reported cases of Coronavirus, along with 745 deaths, according data provided under “Latest Updates” of the Worldometer’s COVID-19 data from 52 African Union (AU) member States reporting countries.

The total number of the recovered and the discharged is 2,458. Also, while the total number of active cases is 11,022, 174 persons with the infections are in critical condition.

South Africa leads the pack of COVID-19 infections in Africa with a total of 2,028, 25 deaths, 410 discharged, 1,593 active cases. Seven are in critical conditions.

 Egypt is next with 1,939 total infections, 146 deaths, 1,367 active cases, 426 discharged and 19 in critical conditions.

Next is Algeria with a total of 1,825 infections, 275 deaths, 460 discharged and 1,090 active cases. Sixty persons are in critical conditions.

Nigeria’s record of confirmed cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) increased by 13 by Saturday evening to 318, 70 have been discharged while a total of 10 deaths has been recorded.

The worldwide number of deaths recorded from the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic rose to 108,334 on Saturday.

More than 1,717,551 declared cases have been registered in 193 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December. Of these cases, at least 401,488 are now considered recovered.

As the daily number of new infections appears to be falling in parts of the world, some fear the epicentre of the virus could move to the African continent.

Despite efforts to lock down cities and countries, despite donations of protective equipment, testing kits and ventilators from China, one thing is clear: Africa has not yet flattened the curve and the room for manoeuvre is getting smaller.

‘Delay in action’

“What we are seeing is that this opportunity is no longer there or almost not there for some countries,” says Dr Michel Yao, who runs the emergency response programme for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Africa.

“The worry is also now that [countries] cannot adequately manage this phase, they are moving to [in country transmission]. But we are seeing there is some delay in addressing [this]… to mobilise more people, train more people, think about capacity.”

It is difficult to compare regions with different cultures, economies, travel links and infrastructure, but some comparisons paint an urgent picture.

In studying the daily increases in the number of those who have tested positive for coronavirus around the world, Africa appears to be controlling the spread better than in the US and Europe so far.

But the comparison with Asia, where some countries appeared to reduce the daily increase in the number of new cases relatively quickly, does not fare so well.

Spreading in communities

Perhaps a better comparison could be with the Middle East. There, cases have steadily risen, along with deaths, and the region has now recorded more than 78,000 cases in total, according to the WHO.

Nearly every African country has reported cases, and while most began with patients bringing the virus in through international travel, it is now spreading within communities.

Different variables make predictions difficult, but the worst-case scenarios are still jarring. “Cases can easily pick up,” Dr Yao says, “even triple, maybe multiply by seven to 10 from what we have right now”.

In South Africa, the last two weeks of March saw a 20-fold increase in the number of confirmed cases. In response to the growing numbers, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a country-wide three-week lockdown that began on 27 March.

He has since extended that to the end of April as the number of daily new cases has dropped – though it is too early to say conclusively if the lockdown the reason.

What is significant is the rise in testing capabilities in South Africa.

The country has so far conducted 75,053 tests for COVID-19, and is now testing at a rate of nearly 5,000 a day, according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.

But compared to other countries in the grip of the virus, that amount is still woefully inadequate. Italy – one the hardest hit countries in the world – has a similar population to South Africa and has conducted more than 700,000 tests.

Testing numbers are even more worrying across the rest of Africa.

Nigeria and Kenya have each conducted around 5,000 and 6,192 tests. Compare that with 600,000 in South Korea, who many see as having waged the strongest campaign against the virus.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of tests but I think we could do much more,” argues Dr Abdhallah Ziraba, a research scientist and epidemiologist at the African Population and Health Research Center.

Testing bottlenecks

African countries have been fighting hard to raise their testing capacity.

Health ministries have worked to convert private laboratories into COCID-19 testing centres and major laboratories like the Pasteur Institute in Dakar have – through the ACDC-organised Covid-19 training seminars for laboratories around the region.

Still it has not been enough.

Bottlenecks in the supplies of reagents necessary for testing have limited capacity.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma recently announced donations of more than one million sample extraction kits to African countries. It is unclear whether the full testing package will be included, but if so, the donation could prove critical to boosting tests continent-wide.

“We know there are challenges around the development of the tests, the cost of the test and the logistics involved but we can’t be complacent and just think that people are not going to die,” says Dr Ziraba.

According to a study written by epidemiologists in London and Johannesburg, a single reported death could mean a country already has hundreds or even thousands of cases.

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