Lockdowns have begun in Africa as coronavirus cases rise above 1,000, according to the latest figures released Saturday afternoon by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Nigeria, the continent's most populous country, announced that it would close airports to all incoming international flights for a month, after Africa's busiest airport, in Johannesburg, blocked foreigners from disembarking. Two major airlines – Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways – announced sweeping cancellations of international flights.
The announcement also came shortly after Nigeria reported its first cases in the capital, Abuja.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority said "emergency and essential" flights are exempt from the ban that starts Monday. An adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, Bashir Ahmad, said Nigeria also plans to suspend all passenger rail services beginning then.
For its part, Rwanda said all unnecessary movements outside the home are banned for two weeks as of midnight except for essential services such as health care and shopping. The East African nation, which has 17 cases, has told all public and private employees to work from home. Tunisia earlier imposed a lockdown as well.
Eritrea and Angola announced the first cases, meaning 41 of Africa's 54 countries are now affected. Congo reported its first death; Burkina Faso reported two new cases, now totaling 64, making it the country with the highest number of infected in all of sub-Saharan Africa.
Also, several government ministers in Burkina Faso have tested positive, including the minister of foreign affairs. On Friday, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore announced the country's two international airports would close for two weeks except for military and cargo.
Uganda is closing its borders to all but cargo. Ethiopia said all arriving passengers would face mandatory quarantine as of Monday. Somalia said it's lifting its ban on international flights for two days so stranded citizens can come home.
Egypt and South Africa, with 285 and 240 according to the latest reported figures, are the most affected countries, followed by Algeria (95) and Morocco (86).
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had already warned at a press conference in Geneva that Africa should be prepared for the "worst" given the danger that the new coronavirus represents for the continent.
The experts repeatedly warned about the risk that COVID-19 could pose for African countries, taking into account the fragility of their health infrastructures, poverty rates, conflicts, the lack of urban sanitation, and the overcrowding of their cities.