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An Ivorian health worker checks the temperature of Ivorian Minister of Health and Public Hygiene Eugene Aka Aoule (left) as the country steps up screening for coronavirus at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Airport in Abidjan on Sunday. Photo: EPA-EFE

Africa on alert for first case of Wuhan coronavirus

  • Ivory Coast woman with flu-like symptoms under observation in isolation in West African country after arriving from Beijing on the weekend
  • Various countries across the continent ramp up screening for the illness to prevent its spread
African countries have stepped up screenings at border checkpoints to prevent the spread of a pneumonia-like illness from China as the continent waits to see if it has its first confirmed case of the coronavirus.
Eugène Aka Aouele, the Ivorian health minister, said on Sunday that a 34-year-old woman from the West African country had arrived in Abidjan from Beijing on Saturday with flu-like symptoms including difficulty breathing, coughing, sneezing and a runny nose.

The woman, a student who has lived in Beijing for five years, was in isolation, under medical observation and her condition was “satisfactory”, the health ministry said.

“There is a suspicion of a case of coronavirus pneumonia. The final diagnosis will be established after the results of the analysis of the samples taken,” Aouele said.

Several African countries, including South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia, have already issued alerts and ramped up screening for the coronavirus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last month and has killed 81 people in China.

Africa has become home to millions of Chinese immigrants, investors and workers since Beijing aggressively moved to the continent in search of raw materials for its industries and markets for its products.

Several airlines, including Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Air Algerie, EgyptAir and South African Airways, fly to Chinese cities. Chinese airlines such as China Southern Airlines and Chinese flag-carrier Air China also have routes to some African cities.


In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country and second-biggest importer of Chinese goods, authorities said the Port Health Services division of the Federal Ministry of Health was on alert and had increased screening measures at points of entry.

“Travellers from Nigeria to Wuhan, China, are advised to avoid contact with sick people, animals (alive or dead), and animal markets,” the Nigerian government warned.

It added that port health officers might ask travellers from Wuhan questions upon arrival about their travel history and possible symptoms.

Ivorian security forces officers guard a pandemic centre established to curb the spread of a coronavirus at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Airport in Abidjan. Photo: EPA-EFE

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control is also coordinating a multidisciplinary technical group to assess and manage the risk of the contagion spreading to Nigeria.

Kenya’s health ministry also said that it had heightened surveillance at all ports of entry and screening of passengers. Flag carrier Kenya Airways operates two non-stop flights between the capital Nairobi and the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, while China Southern Airlines has direct flights between Nairobi and Changsha, in Hunan province in central China.

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