Quarter of a billion Africans at risk, as virus toll tops 300,000

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The coronavirus could infect a quarter of a billion Africans and put intolerable pressure on the continent’s fragile health system, a new report said yesterday, as the pandemic’s global death toll topped 300,000.

Despite fears of a second wave of infections, borders began opening up in Europe and lockdowns continued to ease as governments try to get stalled economies moving again, with experts warning world output could shrink by 10 per cent.

And United States (US) President Donald Trump ramped up his war of words with Beijing over responsibility for what he has dubbed the “Plague from China”, threatening to cut ties between the two countries.

But it was the very human cost of the disease that was thrown into sharp relief with the discovery of infections in the world’s biggest refugee camp, where upwards of a million Rohingya live in squalor.

“We are looking at the very real prospect that thousands of people may die from COVID-19,” in these camps, Save The Children’s Bangladesh Health Director Shamim Jahan said.

The nexus of poverty and risk was also laid bare by a World Health Organization (WHO) report that warned Africa is a hotspot waiting to happen, despite so far having escaped the worst of the disease.

Children line up at a mobile testing and screening station in the Diepsloot township north of Johannesburg, South Africa on Friday May 8, 2020. The country has begun a phased easing of its strict lockdown measures on May 1, and its confirmed cases of coronavirus continue to increase as more people are being tested. (PHOTO: AP)

Researchers say frangible health systems on the world’s poorest continent could quickly be overwhelmed, with modelling suggesting 231 million people could become infected.

Up to 190,000 of them could die, the study published in the journal BMJ Global Health suggested.

With large populations living in slums, social distancing is all but impossible for many on the continent, and health experts say only a vaccine will prevent widespread infection.