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Coronavirus found in sub-Saharan Africa as WHO says spread could ‘get out of control’

Coronavirus has spread to sub-Saharan Africa for the first time as stock market losses around the world deepened amid investor alarm over a potential global pandemic. Nigeria’s health minister, Osagie Ehanire, said the first case in the region was an Italian citizen who worked in Nigeria and had returned from Italy to Lagos on 25…

Coronavirus has spread to sub-Saharan Africa for the first time as stock market losses around the world deepened amid investor alarm over a potential global pandemic.

Nigeria’s health minister, Osagie Ehanire, said the first case in the region was an Italian citizen who worked in Nigeria and had returned from Italy to Lagos on 25 February. “The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos,” Ehanire said.

The case is just the third on the African continent, something that has puzzled health specialists given the continent’s close ties China. The WHO said Africa’s “fragile health systems” also meant the threat posed by the virus “is considerable”.

Egypt had the first case of Covid-19 in Africa, announced on 14 February. Algeria declared it had a case on Tuesday, an Italian adult who arrived in the country on 17 February. That prompted the WHO’s regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, to warn that the “window of opportunity the continent has had to prepare for coronavirus disease is closing.”

His warning was reiterated by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday, who said the epidemic was at a “decisive point globally” and that it could “get out of control” if affected countries did not move swiftly to contain it.

“It’s what’s happening in the rest of the world that’s now our greatest concern,” he said.

The spread of the virus prompted investors to take decisive action on Friday, when global markets plummeted again. The Dow Jones suffered its biggest one day fall on Thursday, plunging 1,190 points, or 4.4%, with analysts warning the virus could cause as much damage as the 2008/09 global financial crisis. Shares followed suit in the Asian trading session on Friday while Brent crude was poised to dip below $50 a barrel for the first time in four years.

“The coronavirus now looks like a pandemic. Markets can cope even if there is big risk as long as we can see the end of the tunnel,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. “But at the moment, no one can tell how long this will last and how severe it will get.”

Others warned that the virus’s impact would also outstrip the impact of the US-China trade war, while Expectations the US federal reserve would cut interest rates to cushion the blow are rising in money markets.

Donald Trump struck an upbeat tone for a second day running on the virus, saying on Thursday night that US agencies were doing a “fine job” and in the US and China, cases of Covid-19 were going down.

Donald J. Trump
(@realDonaldTrump)

Congratulations and thank you to our great Vice President & all of the many professionals doing such a fine job at CDC & all other agencies on the Coronavirus situation. Only a very small number in U.S., & China numbers look to be going down. All countries working well together!

February 28, 2020

But where the Dow led, Asian markets followed, with markets in Australia, China, Japan and South Korea all posting heavy losses.

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, pledged to protect the economy.

“But I’m aware of views that if the virus spreads, it could have a huge impact on the economy,” Abe told parliament. “If developments change, we’ll ensure to take steps as needed to prevent the virus from becoming a huge downside risk to Japan’s economy.”

Other developments included:

  • Lithuania and New Zealand reported their first confirmed cases of Covid-19.

  • China recorded 44 new deaths and 327 new confirmed, as the spread of the virus continues to slow inside the country.

  • South Korea announced 256 new cases, bringing the total number of infections to 2,022, by far the largest outside China.

  • In the US Californian health officials are monitoring 8,400 people for symptoms after their arrival on domestic flights.

  • There were 38 confirmed cases of coronavirus in France.

  • 17 people have died in Italy

  • Tokyo Disneyland announced it would close from Saturday through to 15 March.

  • Australian doctors warned the public health system could be overwhelmed in the event of a pandemic, a day after the government launched its emergency response programme.

In London, investors feared another fall on the leading FTSE100 index, as England’s chief medical officer warned on Thursday it was “just a matter of time” until coronavirus spread in the UK. Three people tested positive for Covid-19 in Britain on Thursday, including the first confirmed case in Northern Ireland, as experts warned of the closure of schools and cancellation of major events.

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