Bahamas ban travel from US, Latin America as virus cases rise: WHO sounds alarm at spread of coronavirus in Africa

Latin America

Geneva: The World Health Organisation voiced alarm Monday at the spread of Covid-19 in Africa, warning that South Africa’s surging numbers could be a “precursor” for outbreaks across the continent.

“I am very concerned right now that we are beginning to see an acceleration of disease in Africa,” WHO’s emergencies chief Michael Ryan told a virtual press conference.

Until recently, Africa had remained relatively unscathed by the pandemic compared to the surging numbers seen in other parts of the world. With more than 15,000 deaths and close to 725,000 cases,the continent remains the world’s second least affected after Oceania.

But the situation has become increasingly worrying, particularly in South Africa. The country, which over the weekend saw its death toll from the novel coronavirus pass the 5,000 mark and which has registered well over 350,000 infections, is by far Africa’s hardest-hit.

But Ryan warned that the situation there could be seen as “a warning” for what the rest of the continent might have in store. “While South Africa is experiencing a very, very severe event, I think it is really a marker of what the continent could face if urgent action is not taken to provide further support,” he said.

“South Africa may unfortunately be a precursor, it may be a warning for what will happen in the rest of Africa.” Ryan pointed out that South Africa’s outbreak began earlier than those in a number of other African countries. It had first spread in wealthier areas but had now moved to poorer and more rural areas, he said.

“Therefore, South Africa is experiencing that acceleration,” he said, stressing though that the acceleration was no faster than elsewhere on the continent. While South Africa’s numbers were by far the largest, they had “only” increased by 30 percent in the past week, he said.

By comparison, numbers in Kenya had increased by 31 percent, in Madagascar by 50 percent, in Zambia by 57 percent and in Namibia by 69 percent, he pointed out. “I think what we are starting to see is a continued acceleration of transmission in a number of countries,” he said.

“This isn’t just a wake-up call for South Africa… We need to take what is happening in Africa very, very seriously.” Ryan pointed out that a number of the countries experiencing the greatest increases were wracked “fragility and conflict”, urging international “solidarity and support”.

Meanwhile, the Bahamas is barring visitors from the United States and Latin America in response to a rise in coronavirus cases in the archipelago three weeks after reopening its borders.

Beginning on Wednesday, only flights from Britain, Canada and the European Union will be allowed to land in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said on Sunday. Travelers from those places must complete an electronic health visa before departure, and on arrival show a recent negative coronavirus test result. Otherwise they will be quarantined for two weeks at their own expense.

“In neighbouring countries, hospitals are overwhelmed and deaths are increasing,” Minnis noted. He didn’t directly name the United States, which has had nearly four million Covid-19 confirmed cases and almost 141,000 deaths.

The health crisis is worsening in many southern and western US states, particularly in Florida, a new disease epicenter just 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Bahamian shores. “For some places, it is unclear when or how they will get this virus under control,” Minnis said.

The travel ban extends to commercial vessels carrying passengers, as well as small craft and private planes. The Bahamas, a global tourist destination with 400,000 inhabitants, is still recovering from Hurricane Dorian last year.

It shut its borders April 6, battening down as the pandemic gathered force around the world. Since reopening July 1, the Bahamas has had 49 new coronavirus cases. It has seen only 153 confirmed cases and 11 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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