An Update on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in Africa

With the rapid spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) across the globe, we would like to inform all our clients and partners that we are closely monitoring the situation, in cooperation with our Consultants on the ground across Africa.

The virus

Health officials have determined that this novel strain of the coronavirus respiratory illness capable of spreading through human-to-human contact, droplets carried through sneezing and coughing, and germs left on inanimate objects. About one-fifth of all patients have been observed to become severely ill, ultimately leading to pneumonia and respiratory failure. Since symptoms take some time to show, health officials are also concerned that people with mild (or asymptomatic) symptoms may not be seeking medical care, and hence, all the cases are not being reported.

Avoiding those who have symptoms similar to those the virus causes, as well as washing your hands frequently (or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer if an alternative is needed) is recommended.

The current situation 

The virus has spread rapidly ever since it first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December 2019. The World Health Organization has declared the disease a global health emergency.

More than 98% of all cases are coming from mainland China. It is also believed the actual number of 2019-nCoV cases in mainland China is likely much higher than that reported to date.

Apart from China, the virus has also been diagnosed in several other countries, including the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, France, South Korea, UAE, Vietnam, Cambodia, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Finland, Sweden, Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal.


Africa, along with South America, has recorded zero cases of the new disease despite its increasingly intimate links with China.

Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest airline, is still running flights from China. As much as 1,500 passengers arrive from China each day – many of whom go on to travel to other African countries for business and tourism. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has urged Ethiopian airlines to cancel flights to China.

Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Officer Tewolde Gebremariam has defended the company’s decision to maintain flights to China, arguing that suspending flights to the country would not end the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

“As WHO clearly stated that suspending flights to China would not end the coronavirus outbreak as victims of the virus are located in other countries,” Tewolde told The Reporter.

‘‘If we stop flying to China we can still bring passengers from Korea, the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and that originated from China. So the most important thing is to strengthen the passenger screening mechanism and follow the WHO procedures.’‘

Seventy percent of the Chinese passengers arriving Addis Ababa Bole International Airport transit to other African countries.

Tewolde says the airline has opted to follow the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendations that emphasize screening, rather than travel restrictions.

We have received information from our Consultants in numerous countries in which we provide services, including Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. These countries are well-aware of the potential impact the virus could have locally, and many major airports have passenger screening systems set up. Many governments also have systems in place to provide information to citizens, to help them learn about the virus, and prevent its spread.

We have also been notified that the following number of cases have been recorded, but tested negative, thus far:

  • Ethiopia (4)
  • Ghana (9)
  • Namibia (1)
  • Botswana (1)
  • Zambia (1)

Morocco, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, and Angola are among the African countries that have quarantine systems set up for those who may be carrying the virus.

South Africa

South Africans in the region had banded together, said Winslow Forbes, a South African who has been teaching in Wuhan since 2019. “The South African chat group compiled a list on Wednesday evening, and there were 78 of us in Wuhan. There may be more added now. “Many of my colleagues who went on vacation can’t travel back to Wuhan and they are stuck. The government hasn’t said anything about this coming to an end soon”.

South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases encourages the public to undertake measures to prevent the spread of respiratory infections. “People should adhere to avoiding close contact with people suffering from respiratory illness, wash their hands frequently, avoid markets where live animals are sold, and travelers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette.”

Wuhan, China

Zhou Xianwang, the mayor of Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, has acknowledged criticism over his handling of the crisis, admitting that information was not released quickly enough.

Zhou wore a mask for protection as he told the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV: “We haven’t disclosed information in a timely manner and also did not use effective information to improve our work.”

There is anger among residents that the public were not informed earlier about the potential risks posed by the outbreak, which is thought to have begun in December, or told about what precautions to take.

Wuhan, home to 11 million people, remains under strict lock-down. Hospitals in the city are severely overstretched, running out of beds, testing kits and basic equipment. In response to the crisis, officials have built two designated hospitals to deal with an expected increase in cases.

Zhou stated in an interview with CCTV that 5 million residents left Wuhan before it went into lock-down. This includes people who traveled for the lunar new year festival, as well as those who fled to escape the virus and impending shutdown.

Experts have questioned whether the quarantine measures are helpful. The restrictions were announced hours before they were introduced, potentially encouraging cases to scatter across the country. Some fear severity of restrictions also risks creating anger towards health officials at a time when the public’s cooperation is desperately needed.

There are also doubts about the effectiveness of airport screening, following suggestions it is possible to be infected but not have any symptoms.

Chinese police censored doctor, and the government deleted online posts

The death of a whistleblowing Chinese doctor who was punished for trying to raise the alarm about coronavirus has sparked an explosion of anger, grief and demands for freedom of speech among ordinary Chinese.

Li Wenliang, 34, died in the early hours (local time) of Friday 7 February, after he was infected during the fight against the outbreak, said Wuhan central hospital, where he worked, in a statement.

Li warned colleagues on social media in late December about a mysterious virus that would become the coronavirus epidemic and was detained by police in Wuhan on 3 January for “spreading false rumors”. He was forced to sign a police document to admit he had breached the law and had “seriously disrupted social order.”

His death crystallized the outrage and frustration felt across China over the initial cover-up of the deadly virus. On Friday, China’s social media was awash with posts expressing immense anger and grief.

Li’s death became the top-read topic on China’s micro-blogging site Weibo overnight on Friday, with more than 1.5 billion views, and was also heavily discussed in private WeChat messaging groups, where people expressed outrage and sadness.

Even blog posts from state media outlets mourned his death and issued veiled attacks on the Wuhan authorities who censured him.

The strong public reaction appeared to have drawn the top leadership’s attention. The central commission for discipline inspection, the Communist party’s powerful internal anti-corruption body, and the national supervisory commission, the country’s highest anti-corruption agency, issued a one-sentence statement on their joint website that investigators will be sent to Wuhan to carry out “a comprehensive investigation into the problems reported by the public concerning Doctor Li Wenliang”.

Fearing that the uproar over Li’s death could spill over onto the streets, the authorities quickly deleted posts calling for action. A post forwarded on WeChat but now deleted said: “I hope one day we can stand on the street holding Li Wenliang’s picture.”

In Li’s last blog post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like micro-blog, on 1 February, Li poignantly wrote: “The test results come out positive today. Everything is settled. It is confirmed.”

After his death, academics around China signed open letters addressing the Chinese government. 10 Wuhan professors signed one letter demanding the government enforce its own freedom of speech articles in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, along with apologizing to and compensating 8 coronavirus whistle-blowers.

Li was one of eight people who were detained for “spreading rumors” about the deadly disease’s outbreak – the fates of the other seven, also believed to be medical professionals, are not known.

Track the spread of the virus

In response to this ongoing public health emergency, researchers at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, have created an online dashboard to track the spread of the virus across the world. You can bookmark this map to see live coronavirus updates.


For information as to how Relocation Africa can help you with your Mobility, Immigration, Research, Remuneration, and Expat Tax needs, email, or call us on +27 21 763 4240.

Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8]. Image sources: [1], [2].