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China coronavirus: African nations quarantine symptomatic passengers from China but no cases confirmed

Jevans Nyabiage

Four more African countries have quarantined passengers arriving from China over suspected cases of Wuhan coronavirus even as tests ruled out infection in a person who was under medical observation in Ivory Coast.

In Sudan, health minister Akram Ali Altoum announced that two of its citizens were being examined after displaying symptoms following a visit to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. "We received two suspected cases who came from China through Cairo and Addis Ababa," Altoum said, adding that infections had not been confirmed.

The country does not have the necessary testing equipment and has sent samples to Germany and India, as recommended by the World Health Organisation, state-owned Sudan News Agency reported.

The lack of equipped medical labs and kits has raised fears that many African nations may not have the capacity to detect and handle the virus.

Altoum said Sudan had increased surveillance and screening at airports and borders, setting up seven checkpoints to monitor the movement of people entering the country. China is a major investor and trading partner in Sudan, with thousands of workers in the oil sector, including in South Sudan, where it has invested heavily in oil exploration and refining.

Equatorial Guinea, a small central African nation, reported that it has quarantined four travellers who arrived on Tuesday via an Ethiopian Airline flight from Beijing to the capital Malabo. The country had announced that it would hold and isolate passengers from China for 14 days. It is not clear whether the four had coronavirus symptoms.

On the small island of Mauritius, the health ministry said that all passengers that were travelling from Wuhan or had visited it in the last 14 days would be quarantined for observation, PanAfrican News Agency reported.

Mauritian health and wellness minister Dr Kailesh Kumar Singh Jagutpal said on Tuesday that although the country has no confirmed cases, it has had nine symptomatic people under quarantine. Two of them have left for China and the others remain under observation.

The country's national carrier, Air Mauritius has cancelled all its direct flights to and from Shanghai but said it has made alternative arrangements for passengers to travel to China via Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.

"Air Mauritius is closely monitoring the situation and has intensified precautionary measures in line with the recommendations of local and international health authorities and according to its internal procedures," the airline said on Thursday.

In Angola, which sells most of its oil to China, officials said a Chinese national who arrived in the country about 12 days ago has been hospitalised in Luanda after exhibiting symptoms, including high fever and a cough.

There was relief in Ivory Coast after the announcement on Wednesday that a suspected coronavirus patient had tested negative.

The West African nation had isolated a 34-year-old woman who had arrived at Felix-Houphouet-Boigny International Airport in Abidjan on a flight from Beijing on Saturday with a cough and breathing problems, the country's health ministry said.

But tests by research institutes in Ivory Coast and France found that she did not have the virus, and she has been reunited with her family.

China Southern Airlines crew members are screened after arriving at the international airport in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday. Photo: EPA-EFE alt=China Southern Airlines crew members are screened after arriving at the international airport in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday. Photo: EPA-EFE

The cases in Sudan, Angola and Equatorial Guinea came after Kenya and Ethiopia had also quarantined passengers arriving from China.

Kenya has sent samples from a student who is in isolation at a Nairobi hospital to South Africa for testing, health officials said. He had travelled from Guangzhou after spending time in Wuhan and exhibited flu-like symptoms upon arrival via Kenya Airways on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Kenya Airways said all passengers from Wuhan needed to be cleared by Guangzhou Airport health authorities before being allowed to board its aircraft.

Four Ethiopian nationals were placed in quarantine this week after arriving at Addis Ababa's Bole International Airport from China. Three were students at universities near Wuhan, said Lia Tadesse, the state minister of health.

South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia have all issued alerts and increased screening to prevent the spread of the disease.

The death toll from the pneumonia-like virus reached 171 on Thursday, with more than 8,200 cases confirmed worldwide.

Africa has become home to millions of Chinese businesspeople and workers since Beijing began an aggressive push into the continent in search of raw materials for its industries and markets for its products. Students and tourists also travel regularly between the two regions.

African carriers including Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Air Algerie, EgyptAir and South African Airways fly to China, and carriers including China Southern Airlines and Air China have routes to African cities.

According to Dr John Nkengasong, director of the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Africa is at high risk for the spread of the coronavirus because of the number of flights between China and the continent. He said air traffic between the regions had risen by more than 600 per cent in the past decade.

He added that African countries needed to strengthen their public health surveillance and laboratory systems to better prevent, detect and control the spread of the virus.

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This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.