Nigeria confirms coronavirus, first in sub-Saharan Africa


ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — 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 health commissioner for Lagos, Africa’s largest city with more than 20 million people, said an Italian citizen who entered Nigeria on Tuesday from Milan on a business trip fell ill the next day.

Commissioner Akin Abayomi said the man was transferred to Lagos State Biosecurity Facilities for isolation and testing. The patient was clinically stable with no serious symptoms and was being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos.

Abayomi said officials were working to identify all of the man’s contacts since he arrived in Nigeria. Lagos state early this month advised people arriving from China to observe 14 days of self-quarantine while monitoring for any symptoms.

Nigerian health officials have been strengthening measures to ensure that any outbreak in Lagos is controlled and contained quickly, Abayomi said in a statement.

“We will use all the resources made available by the state and the federal government to respond to this case,” he said.

He urged all residents of Lagos to take measures such as keeping their distance from people who are coughing and washing their hands regularly.

Cases of the virus were already confirmed in Egypt and Algeria in north Africa in recent days. Until then, some global health experts had expressed surprise that no cases had been confirmed in Africa.

Nigeria is one of 13 African countries that the World Health Organization classified as high priority in this outbreak because of direct links to China or a high number of visitors from there.

It was concerns about the virus spreading to countries with weaker health systems that led the WHO to declare the outbreak a global health emergency.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has hurried to train its 54 member countries in testing for the virus. Just two countries had the capability at the beginning of this month. Now more than two dozen have it, including Nigeria.

Most African airlines with direct flights to China quickly suspended them, and countries put in place surveillance and quarantine measures. Many already had experience with trying to prevent the spread of the devastating West Africa Ebola outbreak that ended in 2016, and health experts have pointed to that as a sign of preparedness in this outbreak.

Nigeria was praised for quickly containing cases when the Ebola outbreak reached there in 2014 after an infected man from Liberia landed in Lagos. Nineteen people were infected and seven died, but officials were praised for effective public awareness campaigns and strong leadership.