The ongoing Chinese coronavirus epidemic has now reached the shores of Africa with at least four countries reporting suspected cases of the disease across the continent as of Monday.
Suspected cases of the virus, which was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan, have been reported in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Botswana, all of whom announced they were investigating three, four, five cases respectively.
The contagion comes despite the fact that practically all African governments imposed strict screening at all points of entry such as airports and land borders.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced it had identified 13 other African countries as high-risk countries for the novel coronavirus, mainly because of their close links to China, whose communist regime has aggressively embedded itself through economic investment.
“WHO has identified 13 top priority countries (Algeria, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) which either have direct links or a high volume of travel to China,” the organization said in a statement.
“Active screening at airports has been established in a majority of these countries and while they will be WHO first areas of focus, the organization will support all countries in the region in their preparation efforts,” it continued.
Another concern among health experts is that the virus will spread in countries with poor healthcare systems, a point emphasized by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus when he declared the outbreak as an international health emergency.
“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” he said. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.”
On Sunday evening, China’s Health Commission announced that 17,205 cases had been confirmed nationwide, with 361 people dying as a result. This makes the outbreak more serious than the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak (SAR) in 2003, where 349 people died across China.
Many countries have warned against practically all travel to and from the Chinese mainland, including the U.S., while numerous airlines have suspended flights. Beijing remains unhappy with the measure, and accused the U.S. of “spreading fear” over the outbreak.
“Some countries, the U.S. in particular, have inappropriately overreacted, which certainly runs counter to WHO advice,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying in a written statement.
“The U.S. government has not provided any substantial assistance to us, but it was the first to evacuate personnel from its Consulate in Wuhan, the first to suggest partial withdrawal of its embassy staff and the first to impose a travel ban on Chinese travelers,” she continued. “All it has done could only create and spread fear, which is a bad example.”
China’s eagerness to reduce the impact of the virus was underlined on Monday after the Shanghai Composite Index fell by nearly eight percent amid concerns over the growing number of cases, the largest fall for over four years.