By Dawit Endeshaw and Giulia Paravicini
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – A first planeload of protective and medical equipment donated to Africa by Chinese billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma to help it fight the coronavirus arrived in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Sunday.
So far, the continent of 1.3 billion people has registered only around 1,100 cases spread across 43 countries, with 39 deaths. While that is a tiny fraction of the more than 305,000 people infected and more than 13,000 deaths worldwide, there are concerns that Africa’s relatively poor health infrastructure means it will not cope if the virus becomes established.
“The flight carried 5.4 million face masks, kits for 1.08 million detection tests, 40,000 sets of protective clothing and 60,000 sets of protective face shields,” Ma’s foundation said in a statement. “The faster we move, the earlier we can help.”
It said the supplies would be distributed across Africa, going first to countries that were particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tweeted that distribution would start on Monday.
Health Minister Lia Tadesse said testing for the virus was one of the most important tools for controlling the outbreak.
For several days, governments across the continent have been imposing tough measures to restrict travel and close public spaces. The World Health Organisation is planning to help countries set up pop-up hospitals that could be equipped with oxygen and ventilators.
Part of Africa’s battle to stop the virus from taking hold could be fought in the churches when many of its more than 600 million Christians go to pray.
Kenya, which has 15 confirmed cases, on Sunday banned all religious and social gatherings, limited the number of mourners at funerals to 15, and ordered all nightclubs and bars to close indefinitely.
Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe told a news conference on Sunday that all international passenger flights would be banned from Wednesday.
He said a county official who had flouted quarantine rules and tested positive would be charged once his quarantine ended.
“Kenyans must treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves,” he said. “In the coming week, you will be witnessing more enforcement measures.”
Mozambique’s health ministry on Sunday confirmed its first case of coronavirus – a 75-year-old man who had recently returned from Britain. Both Madagascar and Liberia declared national health emergencies over the epidemic this weekend.
In Burkina Faso, U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young said he had tested positive for coronavirus in a post on Twitter. The country is the worst-affected so far in West Africa, with 75 confirmed cases, including four government ministers.
Somalia said on Sunday it had reopened its international airport for two days to allow its citizens to return from 14 countries affected by coronavirus.
“We shall quarantine them when they arrive, near the airport. Their shelter, beds and food have been readied,” a government spokesman said.
(Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw and Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting by George Obulutsa and Humphrey Malalo in Nairobi, Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu and Lovasoa Rabary in Antananarivo, Manuel Mucari in Maputo, Lucinda Rouse in Monrovia, Henry Wilkins in Ouagadougou; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Frances Kerry)