Besides Egypt, which already has a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), researchers and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have identified Algeria and South Africa as African countries most at risk while Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya as having moderate chance of importing the virus.
The researchers, in a study published in Nature, said they were most concerned about Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya because of their weak healthcare systems, low economic status and unstable political situation which make them highly vulnerable.
WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had said the agency’s decision to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, was mainly based on concerns that the epidemic could spread in nations with fragile healthcare platforms.
For that reason, researchers are also worried about the disease spreading among people in Africa.
An epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, United States and a co-author of the Harvard team’s model, Marc Lipsitch, said though Africa was not as exposed to the ailment as those nations in South East Asia due to direct international flights from Wuhan.
But, he nonetheless feared that a large number of Chinese labourers on the continent and their travels between China and Africa were a possible route for transmission.
The analysis, posted on medRxiv, examined flights to Africa from Chinese cities that had reported infections, but it excluded towns in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, because of the lockdown that has restricted travels from many locations there since late January.
Vittoria Colizza, who models infectious diseases at the Pierre Louis Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health in Paris, France and a co-author of the Africa study, however, said Egypt, Algeria and South Africa have the capacity to respond effectively to an outbreak.
Colizza and her colleagues said Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya, except Sudan, are among 14 African nations that WHO had identified as being at high risk of importing the virus because they receive direct flights from China, or as a result of high volume of travellers.
A spokesperson for global agency in Geneva, Switzerland, Tarik Jašarevic, said the organisation was working with the affected countries to rapidly detect any potential cases, adding that the nations in question also needed to increase their preparedness.