Coronavirus (Covid-19) And Travellers To Africa

The name ‘coronavirus’ was published in 1968. It is derived from the ‘corona’-like or crown-like morphology observed for these viruses in the electron microscope. Since December 2019, several cases of severe fatal pneumonia caused by coronavirus (COVID-19) have emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Declaration of public health emergency of international concern by WHO

 On January 30 2020, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern.

Recent WHO Statistics (March 6, 2020)

The virus has spread rapidly among humans with an incubation period of two to 14 days (Outliers: 0-27 days), affecting 102,044 individuals in more than 97 countries, including Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, South Korea, Vietnam, Macau, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Europe (Italy, Germany, Spain-Tenerife, UK), the United States, Egypt, Nigeria and others causing the death of 3,494 (of these 3,070 in China) patients. Over 57,603 patients (China: 55, 402 ) have recovered.

Africa: 42 (Togo: 1, South Africa: 1, Tunesia:1, Nigeria: 1, Cameroon:2, Senegal:4, Egypt:15, Algeria: 17).

Risk group: The most vulnerable people are those with weakened immune systems, older people, people with long-term health conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.

The symptoms of coronavirus infection are:

  • a cough
  • high temperature
  • shortness of breath

But these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the corona illness. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.

How Coronavirus is spread

Coronavirus is transmitted like MERS or SARS, then it transmits like a common cold. Because it’s a new illness, we do not know exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person. Similar viruses are spread in cough droplets and contaminated hands.

It is transmissible by bodily fluids, and requires direct contact with an infected individual or surface.

What’s the risk of coronavirus for travellers to Africa?

If you’ve been to one of the above mentioned countries in the last 14 days, even if you do not have symptoms and travelled to Africa, there is a higher chance of coming into contact with someone with coronavirus.

What measures need to be put in place to contain the virus?

Mandatory public health education, particularly for incoming travellers in their respective flights and airport public health staff, is required. The national newspapers and television channels and other social media outlets in local languages should be used for the awareness programmes. All travellers to Africa need to be made aware of the symptoms before, during and after their flights.

Advice for people returning to Africa and travellers to Africa

Avoid flying and going on cruises, especially the elderly with long-term health conditions like diabetes, chronic lung and heart diseases.

Arriving passengers should report any symptoms they develop during the flight, at the time of arrival, or after leaving the airport. There are things you can do to help stop viruses like coronavirus spreading even if you are asymptomatic.

– Wash hands with soap and water (30 seconds) before boarding and landing.

– Wash your hands with soap and water often at home and elsewhere ? use hand sanitizer gel if soap and water are not available.

 – Don’t shake hands with someone.

– Try to avoid close contact with people (hugs, kisses), keep distance.

– Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.

– Put used tissues in the bin immediately.

– Do not touch your face (eyes, nose or mouth) if your hands are not clean.

– Avoid contact with people in overcrowding places.

– Avoid air-conditioned cars and rooms, public transport, taxis.

– Asymptomatic arriving passengers should stay indoors (at room temperature)/outdoors with a few people in the next 14 days.

– Incoming passengers may need to get medical advice/information upon arrival at the airport if they have been somewhere with a higher risk of coronavirus.

– Incoming passengers may need to observe the above guidelines for up to 14 days to help reduce the possible spread of infection as a potential carrier of coronavirus.

Risk level

In the WHO declaration for public health emergency of international concern, Africa was referred as vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus infection due to its close ties to China and fragile health systems.

China has emerged in the last three decades as the most favourite study-place for thousands of African students. In 2018, over 60,000 African students were hosted by the Chinese Government to study in the universities and technical/engineering institutions. The Chinese high educational institutions have become the second most popular destination for African students abroad after UK, France, Germany and US. Nearly 5,000 African students live in Wuhan. It is even ahead of the US and UK. Currently, there are 6,475 Ghanaian students studying in China.

International airports

Arriving passengers will be screened for elevated temperatures.

Those with high temperature will be quarantined.

Quarantine areas at airports and selected hospitals are secured by the health authorities.

Enhanced monitoring of passengers from affected areas with direct flights to Africa at the international airport will be carried out.

Travel history and contact tracing will be established.

Rapid testing protocols will be put in place by the health authorities.

Health sector workers should use enhanced personal protective equipment and change gloves regularly.

Finally, masks can help in spreading the virus by the infected persons. But they should be changed regularly and disposed of safely.

If you need medical help, do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Call the local designated clinics and hospitals of the Ghana Health Service for online coronavirus service for medical help and get advice on what to do.

How to self-isolate if you’re asked to:

If there’s a chance you could have coronavirus, you may be asked to stay away from other people (self-isolate).

– Stay at home at a room temperature (22oC).

– Do not go to work, school or public, market places.

– Do not use public transport or taxis.

– Ask friends, family members or delivery services to do errands for you.

– Try to avoid visitors to your home – it’s OK for friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food.

– You may need to do this for up to 14 days to help reduce the possible spread of infection.

For more information, contact your national health authorities for coronavirus (COVID-19) and obtain the updates of the World Health Organization (WHO).

By Prof. Dr. Charles Yankah, President, African Cultural Institute