Despite measures set in place, the Kenya Airways passenger was screened and cleared by China Port health authorities at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport and cleared for boarding. The problem is the coronavirus’ long incubation period. While direct flights from cities in China to major hubs in East and West Africa range from anywhere from 12 hours to13 hours, coronavirus symptoms can appear anywhere between two to 14 days after exposure, according to the US government’s Center for Disease Control. In African regions where borders are porous and passengers hop on short flights between countries for business and travel, a unified response to containing the coronavirus’ spread is key.
When Ebola broke out in West Africa in early 2014, “untracked contacts across borders” curtailed efforts towards to contain the disease despite early intervention by local governments and the World Health Organization. With the fallout from Ebola serving as a powerful lesson, the WHO has been coordinating with officials in Africa since news of the virus’ spread hit. In addition to working closely with health authorities to set protocols and implement emergency preparedness procedures, the WHO has “sent guidance to all ministers in the Africa region to highlight issues that they have to deal with,” said Micheal Yao, Africa program manager for emergency response at WHO. As Lunar New Year nears to an end, and Chinese nationals that call countries in Africa home return from affected regions, governments may face increasing pressure to regulate the virus’ spread.
Over the past decade, an estimated one million Chinese workers have come to call countries in Africa home. Mauritius, an African country with such a high Chinese immigrant population that it was the first African country name Lunar New Year an official holiday, has become a popular destination for Chinese tourists in Africa.