Nigeria, South Africa step up fight against virus in Africa

African countries led by Nigeria and South Africa have ramped up action against the coronavirus after the continent recorded its first fatality.

Nigeria said Thursday it would shut schools and limit religious meetings in its economic hub Lagos and capital Abuja, while South Africa, the continent's most industrialised economy, slashed a key interest rate to help shore up business.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and home to some 200 million people, has so far recorded just 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and is following other countries in ratcheting up its response.

Lagos state government said schools in the city of some 20 million would be shut from Monday. It said there was now "local transmission" of the virus in the city.

Ogun state neighbouring Lagos and regions in the northwest of the country introduced similar measures.

Imposing the restrictions in chaotic and overcrowded Lagos will be a major challenge for the authorities, with the city home to so-called "megachurches" where thousands of worshippers gather each weekend.

Africa is no stranger to deadly viral outbreaks -- the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic killed more than 11,000 on the continent -- but so far the coronavirus appears to have spread more slowly there compared to Asia and Europe.

It has reported little more than 700 out of the nearly quarter-million cases worldwide, according to a tally compiled by AFP. The figure comprises North and sub-Saharan Africa.

But health specialists say the continent is a potential breeding ground for the virus, given poor sanitation, poverty, urban overcrowding and creaking medical systems.

- SA slashes interest rate -

In South Africa, the central bank on Thursday cut its main interest rate by a full percentage point to 5.25 percent to try to bolster its already battered economy.

The bank said there could be a contraction of 0.2 percent this year but cautioned "significant uncertainty" clouded forecasts given the impact of the virus.

News Category: