Why few coronavirus cases in Africa came from China

Thursday March 19 2020

An arriving passenger is screened upon arrival at the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) in northern Tanzania February 28, 2020. PHOTO | FILBERT RWEYEMAMU | AFP


Despite Africans' initial panic that travellers coming from China, the initial epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic, would import virus cases to the region, many of the cases confirmed have been imported from either Europe or the US.

Many analysts are puzzled by this trend given that several African countries have strong trade and travel ties with China.

While it's still not clear why so few cases in Africa emanated from the Asian country, some have attributed this to either a lack of reporting of cases or effective border screening.

But according to the Chinese government, this is down to tightened measures to limit any further exportation of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) to Africa and other regions by learning from “experience.”


China’s ‘prevention protocol’, publicised on Tuesday but enacted at the start of March, says no one can be allowed to fly out of the country unless they are certified by medical authorities from their places of residence as being free of the virus.


It is a new measure Beijing says is a lesson learnt after experts found infected people may still not show symptoms, but can infect others in the long run; and which may partly explain why few cases reported in Africa have directly been linked to China.

“China will continue to quarantine those people from areas that have reported infections, or who have been in close contact with those people (from areas with infections), whether they have symptoms or not,” the document says, indicating that the checks start from the residences, before further checks at the airport for travellers.

Chinese authorities had initially imposed a lockdown on Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus in China, and other areas.

It revised the prevention strategy by including forbidding travel outside the country in the wake of new infections showing up in Iran, South Korea and Italy.

“All travel agencies are strictly instructed to cancel any touring groups outside of China. Every airport will continue to take temperature measurements for passengers at both departures and arrivals. Any passenger with symptoms cannot leave the country.”

China first reported novel coronavirus cases at the end of December last year in Wuhan, Hubei Province. It has gone on to report the highest number of cases globally with 80,894 infections and 3,245 deaths so far.


But the Chinese National Health Commission and State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine says some 69,614 people had “fully recovered” from the virus.

As at Thursday, only 7,263 in China are still sick with Covid-19.

The World Health Organization recently declared Europe the new epicentre of the virus, with Italy -- currently under lockdown -- being hardest hit.

Technically, though China has reported most cases of the virus, it has had a lower death rate compared to Italy, Iran, Spain and Germany.

Officials in Beijing wouldn’t say how the virus jumped to other countries, but they say the measures may be behind the recent reduced infections, as well as few cases reported in Africa being linked to China directly.

In eastern Africa, only Somalia coronavirus case was from the Asian country.

Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Sudan have all reported, mostly from passengers who came in from Europe, US or the United Arab Emirates.

“The entire nation has been mobilised. All the 31 provinces in China's mainland have activated first-level public health emergency response, taking the most comprehensive and rigorous measures possible,” the document says of its $9.5 billion investment to combat the virus.

China on Thursday marked a major milestone in its battle against the pandemic as it recorded zero domestic infections.

But despite its success in containing the disease, Beijing has been accused of hiding information from the external world, especially in the early stages of the outbreak.


Chinese officials refuted the claim and say they have worked with the World Health Organization with “openness and transparency.”

“With utmost openness and promptness, the Chinese government is working closely with the WHO on fighting the epidemic. The Chinese authorities update the data and situation every day, meanwhile sharing with the international communities.”

In Nairobi, a spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy said they have always “kept a close touch with the government of Kenya, including Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health, Transport on the prevention and control of the disease.”

As of Thursday, Africa’s biggest airline, Ethiopian Airlines, is still flying directly to China.