Coronavirus: Italian man becomes West Africa’s first case

An official monitors thermal scanners as a passenger walks past upon arrival of a flight into Lagos, Nigeria

West Africa reported its first case of the coronavirus on Friday as an Italian man who arrived in Nigeria three days ago became the African country’s first case of coronavirus, the health minister said on Friday.

The Health Ministry said on Twitter that the case was in the state of Lagos, home to the southwestern commercial capital of the same name. Lagos is the biggest city in Africa’s most populous country, with a population of about 20 million.

“The case…is the first case to be reported in Nigeria since the beginning of the outbreak in China in January,” the health ministry said in its post, adding that the infection was confirmed on Thursday.

His infection was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

Nigeria’s first confirmed coronovirus case entered the country on a Turkish Airlines flight that traveled via Istanbul, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health told a news conference on Friday.

The man, who traveled from Milan, Italy, and landed on the evening of Feb. 25, spent the night in a hotel near the airport, and continued to his place of work in neighboring Ogun state, Commissioner Akin Abayomi said.

He was treated on the evening of Feb. 26 at his company’s medical facility before health practitioners there called government biosecurity officers, who transferred him on Feb. 27 to a containment facility in Yaba, Lagos.

The Health Minister Osagie Ehanire, in a statement, said the case was an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos.

“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms,” said the minister, adding that he was being treated at a hospital in the Lagos district of Yaba.

The Health Minister of Nigeria Osagie Ehanire.

“We have already started working to identify all the contacts of the patient, since he entered Nigeria,” Ehanire added.

The low number of cases so far across Africa, which has close economic ties with China, the epicentre of the deadly outbreak, has puzzled health specialists.

Prior to the case in Nigeria, there had been just two cases on the continent — in Egypt and Algeria.

The minister said authorities have been strengthening measures to ensure an outbreak in Nigeria is controlled and contained quickly.

There is no cure for the coronavirus, which can lead to pneumonia, and a vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said all nations should prepare.

Director General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

“This virus has pandemic potential,” Tedros said in Geneva. “This is not a time for fear. This is a time for taking action to prevent infection and save lives now.”

Radical quarantining measures have helped slow the rate of transmission in China of the virus, which can cause pneumonia, but it is picking up pace outside China.

Ehanire said the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has activated its national Emergency Operations Centre, and will work closely with Lagos State Health authorities to respond to this case and implement firm control measures.

Hopes that the virus would be contained to China vanished on Friday as infections spread, with countries beginning to stockpile medical equipment and investors taking flight in expectation of a global recession.

The virus has so far caused nearly 80,000 infections and almost 2,800 deaths, according official Chinese figures. It has spread to another 46 countries, where about 3,700 cases and 57 deaths have been reported, according to the WHO.


Chidi Nwoke.