Virus cases ramping up in Africa, which is racing to prepare

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FILE - In this Friday, March 6, 2020 file photo, Kenyan nurse Lucy Kanyi, with her name written on her protective clothing so she can be recognized when wearing it, demonstrates to media the facilities and protective equipment to be used to isolate and treat coronavirus cases, at the infectious disease unit of Kenyatta National Hospital in the capital Nairobi, Kenya. Authorities in Kenya said Friday, March 13, 2020, that a Kenyan woman who recently traveled from the United States via London has tested positive for the new COVID-19 coronavirus, the first case in the East African country. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Patrick Ngugi, File)

DAKAR – Cases of the new coronavirus are ramping up in Africa, with six new countries announcing confirmed infections in the past 24 hours.

Across Africa, 18 of the continent's 54 countries have now registered COVID-19 cases. The majority of these cases are imported, authorities say.

On Friday, Kenya, Guinea and Ethiopia reported their first cases, while Gabon and Ghana did so late Thursday. Sudan also reported its first case, a person who had already died.

Experts warn that on the booming continent of more than 1.3 billion people, containment is key as Africa's already strained health systems could likely lead to a higher mortality rate and deeper crisis that would have global impact.

African countries only began reporting cases in February, and most have been imported by travelers from Europe and the U.S. On Friday, Kenya, Guinea, Sudan and Ethiopia reported their first cases, while Gabon and Ghana did so late Thursday.

South Africa announced eight new cases Friday, bringing its total to 24. Amid growing worry across the country, the military is preparing to repatriate 121 South African students from the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, China. The returned students and the military on the flight will immediately be placed in quarantine.

Africa has so far been good at containing the virus because they have detected cases early, said Dr. Mary Stephen, Technical Officer at the World Health Organization regional office in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.

The continent’s numbers are low compared to the U.S., Europe and especially Asia, where the virus originated, but experts and foundations warn that the emergence of COVID-19 on the African continent could be catastrophic given the fragile health systems in several countries.