African countries could be hit harder by the new coronavirus when winter arrives later this year, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official warned on Thursday.
Seasonal flu normally hits southern and eastern Africa when temperatures drop, suggesting the rate of coronavirus transmissions would also increase, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said.
The coldest months in the region are usually July and August.
But Moeti also cautioned that the coronavirus, which results in the respiratory disease COVID-19, is new and that experts are still trying to understand its behaviour.
For weeks, Africa was largely spared from the pandemic, but more than 600 coronavirus cases have now been reported across 35 of the continent’s 54 countries.
There are concerns that weaker national health systems in Africa will be quickly overwhelmed by the outbreak.
Moeti pointed to the risks posed by shortages of hospital equipment and medical specialists, as well as the high rates of HIV, which compromises patients’ immune systems.
On Thursday, Chad became the latest African nation to report its first case of coronavirus.
The patient is a Moroccan national who travelled to Chad from Cameroun, senior official Kalzeube Deubet said in a statement.
The country closed its airports on Wednesday and instituted health controls at its borders.
The island of Mauritius, a popular tourist destination in the Indian Ocean, also began shutting down on Thursday after recording its first cases.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced a 15-day ban on all arrivals to the island’s airport from Thursday, with cruise ships also banned from docking there.
The island’s cases are Mauritian nationals – aged 21, 25 and 59 – who recently returned to the island from abroad.
Two worked on cruise ships and one is from Britain, the government said in a statement.
Many African countries have implemented restrictions in a bid to contain the spread of the virus, including nations that have not yet had any cases, such as Uganda and Lesotho.
“We must do everything possible to ensure that this enemy does not come here,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said late on Tuesday as he announced that schools would be closed and religious services suspended for a month.
Moeti raised concerns that border closures would prevent experts and commodities from entering and called for discussions over the creation of humanitarian corridors.
In South Africa, now one of the continent’s coronavirus hotspots, the number of cases rose to 150 on Thursday, though no deaths had yet been reported.
Elsewhere, virus-related deaths have been reported in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan.
Algeria reported 10 new cases on Thursday and two deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 82, with eight fatalities, according to news agency APS.
In Congo, which has so far reported 14 cases, Economy Minister Acacia Bandubola was reported to have tested positive for the virus, shortly after attending meetings with the president, prime minister and ministerial council.
She developed a fever during a crisis meeting at the prime minister’s office, the national broadcaster RTNC said.