Nigeria reported the first new coronavirus (COVID-19) case in sub-Saharan Africa on Friday, as the World Health Organization warned against the “fatal mistake” of complacency.
Residents of Nigeria’s economic hub Lagos—a city that was hit by the West African Ebola epidemic in 2014—scrambled for hygiene products Friday after the chaotic megacity of 20 million announced the first confirmed case of new coronavirus in the region.
Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said in a statement overnight that the infected person was an Italian citizen who flew in from Milan, at the heart of Europe’s largest outbreak, earlier this week.
The low number of cases so far across Africa, which has close economic ties with China, the epicenter of the deadly outbreak, has puzzled health specialists.
Prior to the case in Nigeria, there had been just two cases on the continent—in Egypt and Algeria.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with some 190 million people, is viewed as one of the world’s most vulnerable to the spread of the virus given its weak health system and high population density.
Switzerland became the latest country to announce drastic measures on Friday, saying all events with more than 1,000 participants would be suspended until March 15.
The ban forced the cancellation of the Geneva International Motor Show—a major item on the global auto industry calendar—that was due to start next week.
In related developments:
• The deadly coronavirus epidemic will cost world tourism at least $22 billion owing to a drop in spending by Chinese tourists, the head of the World Travel and Tourism Council said Thursday.
The economies most likely to suffer would be those most dependent on Chinese tourism, such as Hong Kong and Macau, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, researchers found.
• A pet dog was quarantined at an animal center in Hong Kong after it tested positive to low levels of the new coronavirus, officials said Friday, in the first such case in the city. The canine, which belongs to a 60-year-old woman infected with the virus, has no “relevant symptoms,” the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said.
But “nasal and oral cavity samples were tested weak positive to COVID-19 virus,” a spokesman said, without explaining why they tested the animal in the first place.
The virus has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 83,000 worldwide—the vast majority in China—since it emerged apparently from an animal market in a central Chinese city in late December.
The number of deaths and new infections has been tapering off in China, following unprecedented quarantine efforts locking down tens of millions of people in the worst-hit cities.
But infections elsewhere have started to surge, with Iran, Italy and South Korea becoming the major new hotspots and cases being confirmed in around 50 countries.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday the world was at a “decisive point” and countries could still contain the epidemic if they “act aggressively now.”
“No country should assume it won’t get cases; that could be a fatal mistake, quite literally. This virus does not respect borders,” Tedros said in Geneva.
The WHO has voiced particular concern about Africa’s preparedness, warning that the continent’s health care systems were ill-equipped to respond to a COVID-19 epidemic.
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank said Thursday they were ready to provide countries in need with immediate emergency funding to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
However, US President Donald Trump has played down the risk of a major epidemic in his country and accused some media outlets of needlessly causing panic.
But his government’s own health officials told communities to prepare for an epidemic.
Authorities in California said Thursday they were monitoring 8,400 people for the virus after officials confirmed a woman had contracted the disease without travelling to outbreak-hit regions.
Still, signs in China offered hope that the outbreak could be contained.
China reported 44 more deaths on Friday, raising its toll to 2,788, with 327 new cases—the lowest daily figure for new infections in more than a month.
But fears of a resurgence prompted authorities in Beijing to tighten crowd controls this week to keep people apart in parks, supermarkets, and cinemas.
The biggest death toll outside China is in Iran, where 26 people have died.
The virus has mostly killed the elderly or people who had other health conditions.
Of the 83,000 people confirmed to have infections globally, 36,500 have recovered, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University in the United States, which gathers data from the WHO and national government sources.
But outside of China, governments have this week been forced into increasingly drastic measures as they only begin their containment efforts.
Japan’s prime minister on Friday defended his call for schools across the country to close over COVID-19, an abrupt decision that stunned officials and parents alike.
The move, announced Thursday, came as the country stepped up its response to the outbreak, and the operator of Tokyo’s Disney resorts said its two parks would close for around a fortnight — the latest in a string of closures and cancellations, highlighting fears of a major outbreak as Tokyo prepares to host the Summer Olympics.
Four people have died and nearly 200 people been infected across Japan.
Shinzo Abe’s surprise move prompted criticism, with officials saying they had not been consulted and parents questioning how to balance work with the sudden lengthy school holiday.
But the prime minister defended the decision on Friday, saying the government “received expert views that the coming one or two weeks are crucial.”
“We have to prevent emergence of a new cluster of patients among children,” he told parliament.
South Korea has the most cases outside China, with more than 2,000 infections and 13 deaths. K-pop megastars BTS on Friday canceled four Seoul concerts due in April.
Italy is Europe’s epicenter with 650 cases and 17 deaths centered around cities in the north.
Wide-ranging measures to halt the spread of the virus have affected tens of millions of people in northern Italy, with schools closed and cultural and sporting events cancelled.
Italy urged tourists spooked by the new coronavirus Thursday not to stay away, but efforts to reassure the world it was managing the outbreak were overshadowed by a sharp rise in case numbers.
Hotel bookings have slumped and nearly a dozen cities in the north are in lockdown as the number of infections reached 650 and deaths hit 17—by far the highest in Europe—according to the latest figures from the civil protection agency.
As alarm grows, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio condemned “false reports circulating abroad” about panic in the country, saying they were doing “more damage” than the virus itself.
“If schools are open, if our children are going to school, tourists and business people can come,” Di Maio said.
“Out of over 7,000 towns in Italy, just over a dozen are affected by this epidemic.”
The latest toll was a sharp increase from the previous official tally showing 528 infections and 14 deaths. That was up from 400 cases and 12 fatalities on Wednesday.
Belarus, Lithuania and New Zealand were the latest to report new cases, with links to Italy or Iran.