(Updates with Kenya confirming first coronavirus death)
NAIROBI, March 26 (Reuters) - About half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa still have a "narrowing" opportunity to curb the spread of coronavirus in the local population, a World Health Organisation regional official said on Thursday.
The virus has multiplied across Africa more slowly than in Asia or Europe, but more than 40 nations on the continent have now reported a total of 2,850 with 73 fatalities, according to a Reuters tally.
On Thursday, Kenya confirmed the death of its first patient over coronavirus, government spokesman Cyrus Oguna told Reuters.
"It has been a very dramatic evolution," Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Africa head, told a media teleconference earlier on Thursday.
Governments across the region needed to invest their efforts in aggressively tracing all those people who have been in contact with imported cases, in order to isolate them and prevent transmission of the disease locally.
"Countries need to work on this containment while preparing for a possible, broader expansion of the virus," she said.
The effort needs to be accompanied by public education campaigns to ensure people are maintaining physical distances, something that could help limit the spread of the virus, and should complement other measures like halting passenger flights.
South Africa has ordered a lockdown of its population for three weeks while Kenya has imposed a night-time curfew to prevent the disease from spreading.
"We still have a window... it is narrowing every day as data on the geographic spread to more and more countries tell us," Moeti said.
John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a health body of the African Union, said African leaders were preparing to engage with their wealthier counterparts to secure vital supplies like respirators and ventilators in case infection rates worsen.
Nkengasong told the same teleconference that countries with advanced industrial bases like South Africa, Egypt and Morocco could be used to produce such equipment if needed. (Reporting by Duncan Miriri; additional reporting by Katharine Houreld; editing by Omar Mohammed, William Maclean)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.