The first confirmed case of coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa has been reported by Nigeria, as stock market losses around the world deepened amid investor alarm over a potential global pandemic.
The case was an Italian citizen who worked in Nigeria and had returned from Italy to Lagos on 25 February, said Nigeria’s health minister, Osagie Ehanire. “The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos,” Ehanire said.
The case is just the third to be confirmed on the African continent, something that has puzzled health specialists given its close ties China.
Earlier this month, officials at the World Health Organization warned that porous borders, a continuing flow of travellers and poorly resourced healthcare systems meant the risk of an outbreak across Africa was “very very high” and raised significant concerns about the ability of “fragile health systems” to cope.
Recent weeks have been used to reinforce testing regimes, isolation facilities and for public messaging too.
“Nigeria has dramatically improved its ability to manage the outbreak of a major pandemic since the Ebola scare in west Africa in 2014,” Folasade Ogunsola, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Lagos, wrote on The Conversation website. “Any of the lessons from keeping the country free of Ebola have informed the steps taken since the news of the coronavirus epidemic first broke.”
There is anxiety in many countries despite reinforced protective measures. In Kenya there has been a backlash against authorities who allowed the first direct flight from China in two weeks.
In other developments on Friday:
Officials confirmed 20 new cases in France in the past 24 hours, after President Emmanuel Macron warned on Thursday that the country was on the brink of an epidemic. In Italy the death toll rose to 17.
About 1,000 people were in quarantine in Germany’s most populous state, as the number of confirmed cases in Europe’s biggest economy rose above 50.
Lithuania and New Zealand reported their first confirmed cases.
The first case was confirmed in Wales, taking the total in the UK to 19.
China recorded 44 new deaths and 327 new confirmed cases, as the spread of the virus continues to slow inside the country.
South Korea announced 571 new cases, bringing the total number of infections to 2,337, by far the largest outside China.
Californian health officials said they were monitoring 8,400 people for symptoms after their arrival on domestic flights.
Australian doctors warned the public health system could be overwhelmed in the event of a pandemic, a day after the government launched its emergency response programme.
The spread of the virus prompted investors to take decisive action on Friday, when global markets plummeted again. The Dow Jones suffered its biggest one day fall on Thursday, plunging 1,190 points, or 4.4%, with analysts warning the virus could cause as much damage as the 2008/09 global financial crisis. Shares followed suit in the Asian trading session on Friday while Brent crude was poised to dip below $50 a barrel for the first time in four years.
“The coronavirus now looks like a pandemic. Markets can cope even if there is big risk as long as we can see the end of the tunnel,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. “But at the moment, no one can tell how long this will last and how severe it will get.”
Others warned that the virus’s impact would also outstrip the impact of the US-China trade war, while expectations the US federal reserve would cut interest rates to cushion the blow are rising in money markets.
Donald Trump struck an upbeat tone for a second day running on the virus, saying on Thursday night that US agencies were doing a “fine job” and in the US and China, cases of Covid-19 were going down.
But where the Dow led, Asian markets followed, with markets in Australia, China, Japan and South Korea all posting heavy losses.
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, pledged to protect the economy, as the Japanese island of Hokkaido declared a state of emergency and urged all residents to stay home this weekend.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with 190 million people and numerous air links around the continent and beyond.
“Given these recent developments globally and in Africa, it is not unlikely that we will have importation of COVID-19 to South Africa,” that country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said on Friday. Separately, South Africa said two citizens who had been working on the Princess Diamond cruise ship have the virus and will stay in Japan for treatment.
In a separate statement on Thursday night, South Africa said it planned to evacuate more than 130 citizens from China’s Wuhan city where the outbreak began. It did not say when that would happen.
There are tens of thousands of African students in China, with a sizeable community in Wuhan. Relatives have been complaining that they face soaring prices, dwindling supplies and are under severe psychological strain.
Egypt had the first case of Covid-19 in Africa, announced on 14 February. Algeria declared it had a case on Tuesday, an Italian adult who arrived in the country on 17 February. That prompted the WHO’s regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, to warn that the “window of opportunity the continent has had to prepare for coronavirus disease is closing”.
On Thursday the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the epidemic was at a “decisive point globally” and that it could “get out of control” if affected countries did not move swiftly to contain it.
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