Nigeria has reported the first confirmed case of coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa, as investor alarm over a potential global pandemic deepened stock market losses around the world.
Nigerian officials said the case involved an Italian citizen who entered the country on 24 February on a Turkish Airlines flight from Milan via Istanbul.
The virus has proliferated around the globe over the past week, emerging in every continent except Antarctica, prompting many governments and businesses to try to stop people travelling or gathering in crowded places.
Switzerland became the latest country to announce drastic measures on Friday, saying all events with more than 1,000 participants would be suspended until 15 March. The ban forced the cancellation of next week’s Geneva international motor show – a major fixture on the global car industry calendar.
The Nigerian case is just the third to be confirmed in Africa, something that has puzzled health specialists given the continent’s close ties to China.
According to Nigerian officials, the Italian man stayed in a hotel near the airport on the evening of 24 February, then continued to his place of work in neighbouring Ogun state. He was treated on 26 February at his company’s medical facility before health practitioners there called government biosecurity officers, who transferred him on 27 February to a containment facility in Yaba, Lagos. He was clinically stable with no serious symptoms, authorities said.
This month the World Health Organization warned that porous borders, a continuing flow of travellers and poorly resourced healthcare systems meant the risk of an outbreak across Africa was “very, very high” and raised significant concerns about the ability of “fragile health systems” to cope.
In recent weeks testing regimes and isolation facilities have been reinforced and there has been work on public messaging.
“Nigeria has dramatically improved its ability to manage the outbreak of a major pandemic since the Ebola scare in west Africa in 2014,” Folasade Ogunsola, the professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Lagos, wrote on the Conversation website. “Any of the lessons from keeping the country free of Ebola have informed the steps taken since the news of the coronavirus epidemic first broke.”
There is anxiety in many countries, despite reinforced protective measures. In Kenya there has been a backlash against authorities who allowed the first direct flight from China in two weeks. The high court ordered flights from China to be temporarily suspended.
In other developments on Friday:
Officials confirmed 20 new cases in France in 24 hours, after President Emmanuel Macron warned on Thursday that the country was on the brink of an epidemic. In Italy the death toll rose to 17.
About 1,000 people were in quarantine in Germany’s most populous state, as the number of confirmed cases in Europe’s biggest economy exceeded 50.
Lithuania and New Zealand reported their first confirmed cases.
The first case was confirmed in Wales, taking the total in the UK to 19.
China recorded 44 more deaths and 327 new confirmed cases, as the spread of the virus continued to slow in the country.
South Korea announced 571 new cases, bringing the total number of infections to 2,337, by far the largest outside China.
Californian health officials said they were monitoring 8,400 people for symptoms after their arrival on domestic flights.
Australian doctors warned the public health system could be overwhelmed in the event of a pandemic, a day after the government launched its emergency response programme.
The spread of the virus prompted investors to take decisive action on Friday, when global markets plummeted again. The Dow Jones had its biggest one-day fall on Thursday, plunging 1,190 points, or 4.4%, with analysts warning the virus could cause as much damage as the 2008-09 global financial crisis. Shares followed suit in the Asian trading session on Friday, while Brent crude was poised to dip below $50 a barrel for the first time in four years.
Donald Trump was upbeat about the virus for a second day, saying on Thursday night that US agencies were doing a “fine job” and in the US and China, cases of Covid-19 were going down.
But where the Dow led, Asian markets followed, with markets in Australia, China, Japan and South Korea all posting heavy losses.
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, pledged to protect the economy, as the Japanese island of Hokkaido declared a state of emergency and urged all residents to stay home this weekend.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with 190 million people and numerous air links around the continent and beyond.
“Given these recent developments globally and in Africa, it is not unlikely that we will have importation of Covid-19 to South Africa,” that country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said on Friday.
Separately, South Africa said two citizens who had been working on the Princess Diamond cruise ship had the virus and would remain in Japan for treatment.
South Africa plans to evacuate more than 130 citizens from Wuhan city in China, where the outbreak began. Officials did not say when that would happen.
There are tens of thousands of African students in China, with a sizeable community in Wuhan. Relatives have been complaining that they face soaring prices, dwindling supplies and are under severe psychological strain.
Egypt had the first case of Covid-19 in Africa, announced on 14 February. Algeria said it had a case on Tuesday, an Italian adult who arrived in the country on 17 February.
That prompted the WHO’s regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, to warn that the “window of opportunity the continent has had to prepare for coronavirus disease is closing”.
The organisation’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the epidemic was at a “decisive point globally” and could “get out of control” if affected countries did not move swiftly to contain it.