Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases have surpassed one million, but global health experts say the true toll is likely several times higher, reflecting the gaping lack of testing for the continent’s 1.3 billion people.
While experts say infection tolls in richer nations can be significant undercounts, large numbers of undetected cases are a greater danger for Africa, with many of the world’s weakest health systems.
The World Health Organization calls the milestone a “pivotal point” for Africa as infections in several countries are surging. The virus has spread beyond major cities “into distant hinterlands” where few health resources exist and reaching care could take days.
Immediately knowing they were at a disadvantage, African nations banded together early in the pandemic to pursue badly needed testing and medical supplies and advocate for equitable access to any successful vaccine. Swift border closures delayed the virus’s spread.
But Africa’s most developed country, South Africa, has strained to cope as hospital beds fill up and confirmed cases are over a half-million, ranking fifth in the world. The country has Africa’s most extensive testing and data collection, and yet a South African Medical Research Council report last week showed many COVID-19 deaths were going uncounted. Other deaths were attributed to other diseases as people avoid health centres and resources are diverted to the pandemic.
It’s all a warning for Africa’s other 53 countries of what might lie ahead. While dire early predictions for the pandemic have not played out, “we think it’s going to be here at a slow burn,” the WHO’s Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti, said Thursday.
Just two African countries at the start of the pandemic were equipped to test for the virus. Now virtually all have basic capacity, but supplies are often scarce. Some countries have a single testing machine. Some conduct fewer than 500 tests per million people, while richer countries overseas conduct hundreds of thousands. Samples can take days to reach labs. Even in South Africa, turnaround times for many test results have been a week or longer.
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“We are fighting this disease in the dark,” International Rescue Committee expert Stacey Mearns said. In addition, Africa has just 1,500 epidemiologists, a deficit of about 4,500.
African nations overall have conducted just 8.8 million tests since the pandemic began, well below the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s goal of 13 million per month. Countries would love to increase testing if only supplies weren’t being snapped up by richer ones elsewhere.
Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said estimating the true number of cases on the continent is “very tricky.” Some 70 per cent of infections are asymptomatic, he has said. Africa’s young population also might be a factor. Without a dramatic increase in testing, “there’s much we don’t know.”
What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada
As of 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 118,514 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 103,077 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,004.
Health Canada is recalling more than 50 hand sanitizers that contain ingredients “not acceptable for use” that may pose health risks.
The agency says hand sanitizers with “unacceptable types” of ethanol or denaturants have not been approved for use in sanitizers in Canada, and their safety and efficacy have not been established.
Denaturants are ingredients added to ethanol to make it unfit for human consumption to avoid unintentional ingestion of hand sanitizers particularly by children.
Health Canada said possible reactions to the ingredients include skin irritation, eye irritation, upper respiratory system irritation and headaches.
Health Canada has an evolving list on its website of 51 hand sanitizers that are being recalled and says Canadians should consult the list regularly. The organization says to stop using products listed, and to consult a health-care professional “if you have used these products and have health concerns.”
Here’s what’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases was more than 18.9 million as of 6 p.m. ET on Thursday. More than 710,000 people have died, while 11.4 million have recovered. The U.S. and Brazil lead in terms of case numbers by country, and have a combined total of more than 7.7 million.
In the United States, White House health experts are warning of a slow rise in the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Washington and urging local leaders to remain vigilant to avoid a surge.
“This is a predictor of trouble ahead,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Thursday.
The U.S. death toll is now more than 159,000, with 4.8 million known cases, according to John Hopkins University. On average, 1,000 people are dying each day across the country from COVID-19.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday became the latest senior elected U.S. official to test positive. He said he was tested as part of a safety protocol to greet U.S. President Donald Trump as he arrives in Cleveland to visit a factory.
France’s new infections rose by more than 1,600 over 24 hours for the second day running on Thursday, putting the country at levels not seen since late May.
The British government says it won’t be using 50 million face masks it bought during a scramble to secure protective equipment for medics because of concerns they might not be safe.
The admission sparked calls from the political opposition for an urgent inquiry into the way contracts for essential supplies were handed out.
The masks were part of a £252-million ($440-million Cdn) contract the government signed with investment firm Ayanda Capital in April. Papers filed in a court case reveal that the masks won’t be distributed because they have ear loops rather than head loops and may not fit tightly enough.
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Thailand has delayed plans for a “travel bubble” agreement with select countries as new daily coronavirus cases rise in parts of Asia, putting pressure on its vital tourism industry and complicating efforts to revive its battered economy.
The country first proposed the idea in June to allow movement between select countries that have low infection numbers, without the need for travellers to undergo quarantine.
But that has been shelved, officials said, amid second and third waves in East Asian countries that previously had their outbreaks under control.
The Philippines on Thursday recorded another jump in coronavirus cases to overtake neighbouring Indonesia as the country with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in East Asia.
A recent surge in cases of the virus in and around the capital Manila has pushed President Rodrigo Duterte to impose a two-week lockdown in and around the city, affecting around a quarter of the country’s 107 million people.
The Philippines recorded 3,561 new infections on Thursday, taking its total confirmed cases to 119,460. That is higher than Indonesia’s 118,753 confirmed cases. The death toll rose by 28 to 2,150, which is less than half of Indonesia’s 5,521 fatalities, but is expected to grow after the recent spike in cases.
A health official says Vietnam’s COVID-19 outbreak could peak in the coming 10 days as the country reported another death and scores of new infections.
Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Truong Son, who is in hot spot Da Nang to oversee the fight against the virus, says new infections have been found every day and “therefore, we have to continue keeping [our] guard up.”
The governor of Japan’s Aichi Prefecture has announced a regional “state of emergency” seeking to curb the coronavirus.
Gov. Hideaki Ohmura on Thursday asked businesses to close altogether or close early and urged people to stay home at night.
The governor says confirmed coronavirus cases have been rising in Aichi since mid-July at 100 or more a day. Before that, daily cases had been zero for extended periods.
India has recorded its biggest single day for fatalities with 904 in the past 24 hours as fresh coronavirus infections surged by another 56,282 cases to reach nearly two million.
The Health Ministry says the total fatalities reached 40,699. India has recorded 20,000 deaths in the past 30 days.
The ministry also said the recovery rate has improved to 67 per cent from 63 per cent over the last 14 days. Nearly 600,000 patients are still undergoing treatment.
Mexico is nearing 50,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19.
The federal Health Department reported 829 newly confirmed deaths Wednesday, giving the country a total of 49,698 such deaths. That is the third-highest number of pandemic deaths in the world. Officials said Mexico’s number of confirmed infections rose by 6,139 to 449,961.
Authorities acknowledge Mexico’s real number of deaths could be much higher, in part because it has done so little testing. Only about one million tests have been performed in the country of almost 130 million people since the pandemic began.