Nigerian health authorities said they’re tracing everyone who’s been in contact with an Italian man who tested positive for the coronavirus, the first such case in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Italian citizen, who works in Nigeria, took a commercial flight on Feb. 25 from Milan to Lagos, a sprawling metropolis of about 20 million people in the continent’s most populous nation, health officials said. The case was confirmed on Feb. 27.
“We are not panicking,” Health Minister Osagie Ehanire told reporters Friday in the capital, Abuja. “We are not banning airlines. We are also not profiling and stigmatizing.”
An outbreak of the deadly disease could put further strain on the finances of Africa’s top oil producer and one of the continent’s largest economies, which has struggled to fully recover from its first contraction in 25 years in 2016. Plunging crude prices stemming from fears of a global pandemic had already raised alarm bells among some economists who predict Nigeria could again fall into recession.
Ehanire said the man may have been infected through what’s known as “community spread” in Italy, when the virus begins circulating freely among people who aren’t in quarantine and aren’t known to have been in contact with other patients.
Nigerian stocks tumbled 1.5% on Friday to its lowest this year while yields on the country’s benchmark 2030 Eurobonds jumped the most in 18 months.
“Nigeria now potentially faces a double whammy” of lower income from oil and the additional costs of dealing with an outbreak, said Dirk Willem te Velde, principal research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute in London. “There are likely to be further economic effects on top of the human impact.”
Still, Nigeria’s health authorities have experience managing infectious diseases after they successfully contained a local outbreak of the worst-ever Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa in 2014 and 2015. Only twenty Ebola cases were confirmed in Nigeria, of which there were eight fatalities.
“Nigeria had one of the best responses in the world,” said Cheta Nwanze, lead partner at SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based geopolitical consulting firm. “The skills in terms of contact tracing, quarantining and treatment are still here.”
The Italian patient who tested positive for coronavirus is clinically stable and has no serious symptoms, the health ministry said. He is being treated at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos.
The government is working to ensure an outbreak in Nigeria is “controlled and contained quickly,” the ministry said in an earlier statement. A special coronavirus group, led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, has activated its national emergency center and will work closely with Lagos health authorities to respond to the case, it said.
A special coronavirus group, led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, has activated its national emergency center and will work closely with Lagos health authorities to respond to the case, it said.
Health experts have voiced concerns over the possible spread of the coronavirus in African nations that may be ill-equipped to handle such a crisis. The only other country on the continent to report a confirmed case is Algeria.
— With assistance by Dulue Mbachu, Elisha Bala-Gbogbo, and Robert Brand
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