Why Africa’s coronavirus outbreak appears slower than anticipated

When Africa’s first case of coronavirus was detected in Egypt in February, the rest of the continent prepared for the brunt of a pandemic that has engulfed Europe and spread to the United States, infecting more than 1.6 million worldwide.

Health experts warned of the devastation the deadly virus could cause in Africa, where most hospitals are desperately short of equipment and trained staff.

Coronavirus has since spread to 52 African countries, but despite a steady rise in the number of confirmed cases, the continent continues to lag behind the global curve for infections and deaths.

Still, the World Health Organization last month warned Africa faced a dramatic evolution of the pandemic even as governments imposed restrictions to help curb the spread. The continent appears poorly equipped to manage a major health crisis and is struggling to test enough to monitor virus cases.

To date the novel respiratory disease has infected more than 12 800 people on the continent and killed at least 692, according to a tally compiled by AFP.

Only the Comoros archipelago and the tiny kingdom of Lesotho have not yet detected any cases.

South Africa is the worst-affected country, with over 2 000 confirmed cases and 25 recorded deaths so far – well behind the more than 871 000 cases and 71 000 deaths counted in Europe to date.

Experts, however, warn that the tide is rising.

“During the last four days we can see that the numbers have already doubled,” said Michel Yao, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa’s emergency response programme manager.

“If the trend continues… some countries may face a huge peak very soon,” Yao said.

WHO Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti echoed the concern, adding that the spread of Covid-19 outside major cities opened “a new front in our fight against this virus”.