Coronavirus confirmed in four more African states

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Tanzania, Liberia, Benin and Somalia confirmed the first coronavirus cases on Monday, as African nations shut borders amid fears the disease could cause fragile health systems to collapse.

The new cases mean 30 African nations – more than half the continent – are treating 400 coronavirus patients.

Somalia, in a civil war since 1991, is reliant on donors to support its public hospitals. Fighting between Islamist insurgents and the internationally-backed government forced more than 2.6 million Somalis to flee their homes. Many live in makeshift tents.

Health minister Fawziya Abikar Nur said on Twitter the ministry quarantined and tested four Somalis who came from China last week. One tested positive for the disease. International flights to Somalia were suspended for two weeks, the aviation minister told Somali national television.

In West Africa, small and impoverished Liberia announced its first case. Liberia was devastated by a 2014 Ebola epidemic that killed 4 000 people and many health professionals. The healthcare system remains underfunded despite promises of investment.

Benin, considered a relatively stable democracy in the turbulent West African region, also announced its first case. The health ministry said the Beninois national was in an isolation ward in the capital after returning from Belgium and Burkina Faso on March 11.

The health ministry in the east African nation Tanzania confirmed its first case, a Tanzanian woman who travelled to Denmark, Sweden and Belgium. She had her temperature taken at the airport, but had no fever and was allowed to pass, but later felt unwell at her hotel, the ministry said.

On Monday, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Cameroon reported more cases and South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said his nation, which has 61 cases so far, may need to raid other government departments for funds to fight the disease.

“As the situation develops we need to set aside further funding. That means we have to reduce programmes throughout the government system by reducing allocated amounts,” Mboweni said at a conference outlining measures to contain the outbreak. He did not provide any figures.

CRACKDOWN AS BORDERS CLOSE

Many African nations, including some without reported cases, ordered tougher control measures, including bans on public gatherings, halting flights and closing schools and universities.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-largest nation, joined the growing list of countries that closed schools for two weeks, suspended large gatherings and cancelled sports events, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said.

Government buses will give free rides to curb overcrowding in the public transport system, a statement said.

Nigeria’s health ministry said the country, Africa’s most populous, strengthened contact tracing, stockpiled reagents used in test kits and increased testing capacity.

Also on Monday, Kenyan police raided a clinic alleged to be selling fake coronavirus testing kits. Police detained staff and locked the facility, witnesses told Reuters journalists at the scene, after it advertised testing kits online.