Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Africa wary of European tourists spreading virus

  • The first reported case in sub-Sahara Africa was in Nigeria (Photo: Jeremy Weate)

Italy's far-right leader Matteo Salvini last month demanded "armour-plated" borders, over fears African boat migrants would spread Covid-19 into his country.

Two days later sub-Saharan Africa announced its first case - shortly after a 44-year old Italian landed at Lagos airport in Nigeria. Algeria did the same when another Italian was found to have also contracted the virus.

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By mid-March, the United Nation's World Health Organization announced the spread of the virus "in the African region are sporadic importations from European countries, mainly Italy, France, Germany and Spain."

The Italian cases are not limited to Nigeria and Algeria. One group of Italian tourists reportedly tried to escape coronavirus confinement in Mauritania but were caught and sent home.

Similar reports of Italian tourists violating containment rules were also documented in Tunisia.

Over a dozen African countries have since cited imported cases of the virus - primarily from Europe and to a lesser extent North America.

These include Kenya, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and others.

The Global Health Security Index, which ranks national health security across the globe, says the countries least prepared to cope with outbreaks on the scale seen in Italy and China are clustered in Africa.

Some health care systems fair comparatively better, given the legacy of the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

With Europe now officially declared the epicentre of the pandemic, African states are imposing entry travel bans and restrictions on visiting Europeans and other nationals considered high risk.

Uganda

Among them is Uganda, which earlier this month asked some 20 incoming Europeans to leave, after they refused to self-quarantine.

An Ugandan ministry health official said the majority of those returned were from Italy. Others also flew back to Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland.

Local media at the time reported some had arrived to attend an Uganda-Europe Business Forum - a claim disputed by the European Union delegation in Kampala, which had helped set up the event.

"To the best of our knowledge those must have been tourists, they were not our guests," Emmanuel Gyezaho, the EU's Uganda delegation press officer told EUobserver.

Gyezaho said Ugandan authorities had in fact not sufficiently informed travel agencies in time, suggesting people arriving at the airport in Kampala had been unaware of the entry ban.

He said Europeans already in the country prior to the ban still attended the forum, an offshoot of the EU's bigger plans to forge deeper relations with the continent.

European Commission officials had also cancelled in advance, he said.

"We sent out messages to them and requested them not to come and indeed they did not come," said Gyezaho.

350 confirmed cases

With nearly 350 reported cases in 27 of the 54 nations that make up the continent, Africa is so far the less impacted when compared to elsewhere.

The continent's relative young age may be a contributing factor to the low confirmation rates. With a median age of less than 20, only three percent of sub-Saharan Africa's population is older than 65.

But broader fears of a wider contagion throughout remain heightened with Ghana and Kenya first to impose blanket travel bans on international visitors. Morocco and Djibouti have also suspended flights.

Among the most recent cases is in Tanzania, which on Monday confirmed a woman who travelled through Belgium, Germany and Sweden before turning to the country, had contracted the virus.

In Ethiopia, a Japanese man who recently travelled to the country had also tested positive.

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