Virus cases spread across Africa, nations prepare for more

Passengers disembark from a plane on their arrival in Polokwani, South Africa, Saturday, March 14, 2020 after being repatriated from Wuhan, China where they will be kept in quarantine at a nearby resort. For most people the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo)
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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Africa is seeing a steady spread of the coronavirus across the continent, with five new countries confirming cases on Saturday, so that 24 of Africa’s 54 countries have COVID-19 patients.

Eswatini, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania, Namibia and Rwanda reported their first cases Saturday. All were brought to the continent by travelers from overseas, as with almost all the other cases reported in Africa, according to health authorities.

African governments and health officials are racing to try to contain the spread of the new virus on the continent of 1.3 billion people. If the disease spreads locally within the continent, health officials warn that several countries with fragile health systems could see higher mortality rates.

Namibia, which confirmed two cases of people who arrived from Spain, canceled its independence celebrations planned for March 21. The funds that were to have been spent on the independence festivities will now be used to fight the further spread of the coronavirus, said officials.

President Hage Geingob will be sworn into a second term of office, but all other large gatherings have been suspended for the next 30 days. Flights linking Namibia to and from Qatar, Ethiopia and Germany have been suspended for 30 days.

In response to two cases it confirmed on Saturday, Mauritania closed schools for a week, reduced border crossing points, placed a ban on public gatherings and called for travelers from countries at risk to voluntarily confine themselves at home.

In South Africa, 14 new cases were confirmed Saturday, bringing the country’s total to 38.

A South African military plane repatriated 121 South African students who had been stranded in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak first became a crisis. The South African jet landed at the Polokwane airport in the country’s north. All passengers had tested negative before the flight back from China but as a precautionary measure the group, including the crew, will be in quarantine for 21 days at a nearby hotel. The roads leading to both entrances of the Ranch Resort are being patrolled by the army and police, authorities said.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Africa’s hospitals may not be adequately prepared to care for large numbers of people who may need intensive care and ventilators, say health experts.