In Brief

Coronavirus alarm bells ring in Africa

Rising infection rates and governments in denial stoking fears that health systems will be overwhelmed

A quarter of a billion people across the African continent are likely to be infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus over the next year, a new World Health Organization report warns.

And health experts predict that while low rates of obesity and a youthful population will result in “a lower rate of transmission and viral spread” than in Europe, Africa’s death toll may reach up to 190,000.

After escaping the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, several African countries are now recording a steady increase in Covid-19 infection rates. 

Although Tanzania has not reported figures for infections or deaths since 29 April, alarming reports are emerging from the country’s biggest city.

The “risk of contracting Covid-19 in Dar es Salaam is extremely high”, with evidence of “exponential growth of the epidemic” in the city and beyond, the US embassy in Tanzania said in a statement posted on Twitter earlier this week.

“Many hospitals in Dar es Salaam have been overwhelmed,” the embassy added.

Tanzania’s president has accused journalists of exaggerating the threat, but “videos of night burials have emerged on social media and triggered panic”, The Times reports. “Senior members of the cabinet are also suspected to have died after contracting the virus.”

In South Africa, the picture is very different. “A combination of mass screening, targeted testing and a draconian lockdown” have kept infections in check, says Nigeria’s Business Day newspaper.

In fact, South Africa’s tally of Covid-19 deaths so far has been “more than compensated for” by steep drops in homicides and road traffic fatalities, adds Australia’s News.com.au.

The Covid-19 death toll now stands at 238, in a country with roughly the same population as Italy and the UK - but daily deaths are creeping up and lockdown fatigue is growing. “A wave of infections at some point this year is almost inevitable,” says The Guardian. “All the state can do is delay it.”

Elsewhere on the continent, the outlook is mixed.

Botswana and Namibia have reported just one death between them. But in Nigeria, where the official death toll is 167,  “scores of mysterious deaths” in the north of the country “have sparked speculation that coronavirus may be moving untracked through Africa’s most populous nation”, the Financial Times reports.

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