Nigeria’s health authorities on Friday reported the country’s first case of a new coronavirus in Lagos, the first confirmed appearance of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa.
The state was one of four countries which declared their first cases of the coronavirus overnight, including New Zealand.
England’s chief medical officer has warned it is “just a matter of time” until coronavirus spreads in the UK, as the number of confirmed cases in the country jumped to 16.
Three people tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK on Thursday, including the first confirmed case in Northern Ireland.
Coronavirus cases sparks memories of Ebola crisis
Nigeria’s first case of new coronavirus is stirring memories of the fears sparked six years ago when West Africa’s Ebola epidemic hit the chaotic megacity of 20 million.
The low number of cases so far across Africa, which has close economic ties with China, the epicentre 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 fragile health system and high population density.
In 2014, the first case of Ebola confirmed in the city from the outbreak that swept West Africa set off alarm bells across the globe and unleashed a wave of panic among residents.
In the end Lagos escaped relatively lightly and only seven people died from a total of 19 infected, a number dwarfed by the overall toll of 11,000 deaths across the region from 2013 to 2016.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) hailed the containment of Ebola in Lagos as a major success given the potential for a rapid spread in the city’s closely packed and poorly sanitised neighbourhoods.
The Lagos state health authorities reacted quickly, medical experts from international organisations in the country deployed from the capital Abuja and the disease was confined to the upscale neighbourhoods in the city.
Earlier, the World Health Organisation in preparation for an eventual importation of the disease had listed 13 Africa countries (Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Morocco, Sudan, Angola, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Tunisia) as having the highest ‘importation risk’.
These countries, according to WHO, are top priority for preparedness measures due to their direct links or high volume of travel to China.
The respiratory disease, which has killed over 2000 people, is capable of spreading through human-to-human contact, droplets carried through sneezing and coughing, and germs left on inanimate objects.
Symptoms of the disease can include a sore throat, runny nose, fever or pneumonia and can progress to multiple organ failure or death in some severe cases.