Africa must “wake up” to the coronavirus threat and prepare for the worst, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
The continent should learn from how the spread of the virus has sped up elsewhere, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
He warned that while Africa’s confirmed cases were currently low – around 640 – there was no reason for complacency.
“Africa should wake up, my continent should wake up,” said the Ethiopian, the WHO’s first African head.
Health experts warn that strained public health systems in Africa could become quickly overwhelmed if the virus takes hold, especially in overcrowded urban areas.
“WHO’s recommendation is actually mass gatherings should be avoided and we should do all we can to cut it from the bud, expecting that the worst could happen,” Mr Tedros told a news conference in Geneva, where the WHO is based.
In Africa, 16 people have died from Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus: six in Egypt, six in Algeria, two in Morocco, one in Sudan and one in Burkina Faso.
In South Africa, which has 116 cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a state of disaster, restricting travel, closing schools, banning mass gatherings and ordering bars to close or limit numbers to 50.
The country has also banned all cruise ships from its ports. This comes despite tests coming back negative for six people onboard a cruise ship, which had been put under quarantine. All 1,700 people are now free to leave the ship and return home.
Anyone breaking South Africa’s coronavirus measures will be subject to a fine, or even imprisonment.