from SAVIOUS KWINIKA (Johannesburg)/PEDRO AGOSTO (Launda) / ARNOLD MULENGA (Lusaka), ARIMANDO DOMINGOS (Maputo) / ALEXIS DOUMBIA (Abidjan) / MARIA MACHARIA (Nairobi) / ADANE BIKILA (Addis Ababa)
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – AFRICAN countries are stepping up surveillance efforts following the emergence of the first suspected cases of the deadly Novel coronavirus outbreak in the continent this week.
The virus has made global headlines in recent weeks with Africa seemingly exempt but Ivory Coast on Monday became the first country in the continent to test a suspected coronavirus case, when a female student arrived at an airport in the capital Abidjan with suspicious symptoms.
Since then, authorities in Ethiopia have quarantined four students suspected of carrying the virus.
Kenya has also isolated a citizen-who also travelled from China- for having symptoms of the coronavirus.
There has been a noticeable flight of African students based in China returning to the continent as authorities in the Asian nation battle the disease.
Africa is also vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus owing to the volume of trade and travel between Asia and the continent.
Before the suspected cases in Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Kenya, the virus that broke out in China had spread to the rest of Asia, Australia, Europe and North America but authorities are leaving nothing to chance.
They are wary of the risk of the current risk of importation of cases of the virus from Wuhan City, the epicentre of the virus that as of the middle of this week left at least 106 people dead.
South Africa has enhanced surveillance of all travelers from Asia, especially China considering most BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) business executives are from China.
The surveillance has been beefed up at the country’s ports of entry, particularly the Oliver Reginald Tambo (O.R.Tambo) and Cape Town International Airports, which are the only gateways with direct flights from Asia.
“South Africans are assured that measures are in place to detect, manage and contain any cases of Novel Coronavirus should it come to our shores,” said Popo Maja, the spokesperson of the national Department of Health.
Port health professionals routinely conduct temperature screening for all international travelers.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) has not recommended any restriction of travel or trade, South African authorities have advised travellers to Wuhan to avoid contact with animals.
The majority of the coronavirus cases were linked to a seafood, poultry and live wildlife market in Wuhan City, suggesting that the virus has a possible animal origin.
Travellers have also been advised to practice good hand hygiene and cough etiquette in order to reduce the risk of infection with respiratory viruses.
In addition to enhanced surveillance, South Africa has embarked on a campaign to empower public and private health workers on the diagnosis and response to a possible outbreak.
“Provinces have activated outbreak response teams and are on high alert to detect and manage inadvertent cases that may arrive in the country,” said Maja.
In Angola, the government is implementing preventive measures in ports, land borders and overcrowded passenger stops.
The Ministry of Health is leading the exercise that mainly consists of the installation of thermometers in the above mentioned places, mostly the Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport, which is the main international airport of Angola.
“The installation of thermometers at the airport will help promptly identify changes in body temperature and pay special attention to arriving passengers,” Minister of Health, Sílvia Lutucuta, said.
The ministry has established multidisciplinary medical teams at the main airport to carry out necessary controls in all areas of the airport.
On their part, citizens must practise good hygiene such as washing their hands.
Government has encouraged them to pay attention to the virus’ most common symptoms, which include cough, fever and breathing difficulties.
Lutucuta assured that all ministerial departments and the private health sector were working on necessary measures.
Mozambique is also on high alert, government official assured, adding staff at all the country’s health facilities were in readiness.
“We have strengthened the screening services at the points of entry,” said Rosa Marlene Cuco, the National Director of Public Health.
The Ministry of Health, she said, was working with the Foreign Affairs ministry and the National Immigration Service to obtain details of travellers, especially those going to China.
“People travelling overseas should take great care in contact with anyone showing possible symptoms of infection. Any traveller returning from countries at risk of coronavirus must carry out a self-diagnosis before entering Mozambique,” Cuco advised.
A Mozambique student in China is suspected to be carrying the virus and has reportedly been prevented from leaving the Chinese city where he is spending the holidays.
Authorities said this was a precautionary measure.
Tanzania issued a stern statement against members of the public overlooking suspected cases of the virus.
“The ministry warns the public on this,” said the Ministry of Health spokesperson, Gerald Chami.
Minister Ummy Mwalimu’s health ministry stated it would boost airport surveillance for passengers travelling from China and other affected countries.
Tanzania has embarked on an awareness drive among health workers and health workers, with a major focus on entry points.
Quarantine facilities are being considered.
Despite WHO classifying Zambia as a low risk country, the government has boosted surveillance of the killer disease at entry points across the country, mainly airports.
Chilufya, the Minister of Health, confirmed the proceedings.
The use of thermal scanners for temperature monitoring on all arrival passengers is some of the measures.
Chilufya National Public Health Emergency Operations Centre was on high alert.
“The government under is committed to addressing this challenge,” the minister said.
Already, Zambia is at risk of the world’s second worst outbreak of Ebola that has claimed the lives of more than 2 200 people since August 2018 in the northern neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo .
Malawi has also set up screening procedures for people arriving from overseas.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. They can be spread from human to human.
Among the most deadly in recent years are the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
An outbreak of SARS, which also started in China in 2002, resulted in more than 700 deaths globally.
Since 2012, 850 deaths have been documented from MERS.
– CAJ News