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Somalia, Liberia, Benin and Tanzania confirm first coronavirus cases

by Reuters
Monday, 16 March 2020 14:18 GMT

(Recasts with Tanzania and Somalia)

NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA, March 16 (Reuters) - Tanzania, Liberia, Benin and Somalia confirmed their first coronavirus cases on Monday, as more African nations shut their borders amid fears the disease could cause their fragile health systems to collapse.

The new cases mean 30 African nations - more than half the continent - are now treating nearly 400 patients with coronavirus.

Somalia, which has been at civil war since 1991, is completely reliant on donors to support its meagre public hospitals. Fighting between Islamist insurgents and the internationally-backed government has forced more than 2.6 million Somalis to flee their homes. Many live in makeshift tents made of sticks and scraps of material.

Health minister Fawziya Abikar Nur said on Twitter that the ministry had quarantined and tested four Somalis who came from China last week, and one had tested positive for the disease. International flights to Somalia were suspended for two weeks, the aviation minister told Somali national television.

In West Africa, the small and impoverished nation of Liberia announced its first case. Liberia was devastated by a 2014 Ebola epidemic that killed 4,000 people and many health professionals. The healthcare system has remained underfunded despite promises of investment.

Benin, considered a relatively stable democracy in the turbulent West African region, also announced its first case. The health ministry said the Beninois national was being held in an isolation ward in the capital after returning from Belgium and Burkina Faso on March 11.

The health ministry in the east African nation of Tanzania also confirmed its first case, a Tanzanian woman who had travelled to Denmark, Sweden and Belgium. She had her temperature taken at the airport, but had no fever and was allowed to pass, but later felt unwell at her hotel, the ministry said.

Also on Monday, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Cameroon all reported more cases and South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said his nation, which has 61 cases so far, may need to raid other government departments for funds to fight the disease.

"As the situation develops we will need to set aside further funding, that means we will have to reduce programmes throughout the government system by reducing the allocated amounts," Mboweni said at a conference outlining new measures to contain the outbreak. He did not provide any figures.


Many African nations, including some without reported cases, have ordered tougher control measures, including bans on public gatherings, halting flights and closing schools and universities.

Ethiopia, Africa's second-largest nation, joined the growing list of countries that closed schools for two weeks, suspended all large gatherings and cancelled all sports events, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office said.

Government buses will give people free rides to curb overcrowding in the public transport system, a statement said.

Nigeria's health ministry said the country, Africa's most populous, had strengthened contact tracing, stockpiled reagents used in test kits and increased testing capacity.

Also on Monday, Kenyan police raided a clinic alleged to be selling fake coronavirus testing kits. Police detained staff and locked the facility, witnesses told Reuters journalists at the scene, after it had been advertising testing kits online. (Reporting by Giulia Paraviciniin Addis Ababa, Adbi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Omar Mohammed, Baz Ratner and David Lewis in Nairobi, Juliette Jabkhiro in Dakar, Clement Uwiringiyiman in Kigali; Olivia Kumwenda in Johannesburg and Elias Biryabarema in Kampala; Writing by George Obulutsa and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Giles Elgood, William Maclean)

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