First coronavirus case in Zimbabwe fuels Africa pandemic fears

By Associated Press reporters

Fears are growing about the spread of the coronavirus in Africa after Zimbabwe announced its first case — in one of Africa’s most visited tourist locations.

The pandemic threatens a national health system that has nearly collapsed amid an economic crisis.

Health minister Obadiah Moyo said the infected man lives in the popular tourist destination of Victoria Falls.

He said the 38-year-old had travelled to Britain on March 7, returning home via neighbouring South Africa on March 15.

He put himself in self-isolation upon arrival and later called his doctor after realising “he was not feeling too well”, the minister said.

Zimbabwe days ago declared a national disaster, and some citizens have openly dreaded the pandemic’s arrival. Already public hospitals lack basic items such as gloves and relatives of patients are expected in some cases to even provide buckets of water.

Doctors at public hospitals recently went on strike for months, saying their pay of roughly 100 dollars a month was not enough to get by.

Zimbabwe’s government has said it is “well prepared” to deal with Covid-19 cases.

Neighbouring South Africa said coronavirus cases jumped to 202, the most in the sub-Saharan region.

Five of the new cases had attended a church gathering of more than 200 people in central Free State province. All had arrived from abroad.

Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport said aircraft with foreigners “will be contained at an isolated bay with all officials ensuring the utmost care is taken”, following up on travel restrictions announced days ago when South Africa declared a national disaster.

It was working with airlines to ensure foreigners “return to the country of origin”.

Foreigners across the continent of more than 1.3 billion people face the growing risk of being stranded as countries close borders.

The financially troubled South African Airways announced its immediate suspension of all international flights through May 31 as CEO Zuks Ramasia cited travel bans and plummeting demand.

“The increasing risks to our crew of contracting the virus, including the possibility of being trapped in foreign destinations as a consequence of increasing travel bans, cannot be ignored,” she added.

SAA flies to New York, London, Frankfurt, Munich and Washington — all in what South Africa now considers high-risk countries.

Also on Friday, two other African nations announced their first cases, Madagascar and Cape Verde. Thirty-nine countries on the continent now have cases, with a total now well above 900.

So far most of the cases in Africa have been linked to overseas travel. But overnight, Niger, in announcing its first case, highlighted possible regional spread inside the continent. Its citizen had travelled via the West African capitals of Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.

Tunisia declared a lockdown. Malawi, without a virus case, declared a state of disaster. Nigeria closed three international airports but those in Lagos and the capital, Abuja, remained open. South Sudan closed its schools.

Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio directed the military to the international airport and land borders to increase security and “and support compliance with all public health directives” while calling on people not to panic.