Africa has reported more than 100,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, with the virus spreading to every country on the continent, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

There have been 3,100 deaths from the virus in Africa.

“For now Covid-19 has made a soft landfall in Africa, and the continent has been spared the high numbers of deaths which have devastated other regions of the world,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

A security officer dispenses chlorinated water to a passenger at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a few hours after the government announces the first case of the Covid-19 in the country on March 16, 2020.
A security officer dispenses chlorinated water to a passenger at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a few hours after the government announces the first case of the Covid-19 in the country on March 16, 2020.

During a briefing on Friday, Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO executive director of Health Emergencies Programme, said: “On the one hand, good news — the disease hasn’t taken off in a very fast trajectory, but (there’s) a concern some countries are accelerating in the number of cases.”

Ryan said within Africa, there are “many, many highly vulnerable groups” and the bearing of coronavirus on those groups has yet to be seen.

“We don’t know what the impact of this will be in undernourished children with chronic malnutrition, we don’t know what the impact of this will be in in overcrowded refugee camps. So, there’s a lot still to be learned,” he said.

As a comparison, Europe reported 4,900 deaths when when cases reached 100,000 on that continent, according to the press release.

Africa’s lower mortality rate could be partly because Africa is the youngest continent demographically with more than 60% of the population under the age of 25, the WHO’s early analysis suggested.

The continent has conducted around 1.5 million Covid-19 tests, but testing rates remain low and many countries continue to require support to scale up testing, WHO said.

African governments were quick to impose confinement measures, including physical and social distancing, which WHO said had helped to slow the spread of the virus, along with contact tracing, isolation and increased hand washing.

A new modeling study by WHO predicts that if containment measures fail, even with a lower number of cases requiring hospitalization than elsewhere, the medical capacity in much of Africa would be overwhelmed.

With more than 18,000 cases, South Africa has the highest number of coronavirus patients on the continent. The country has imposed strict restrictions, including a five-week lockdown, which ended April 30, to combat the spread of the disease. The government plans to reopen schools June 1 and says the education department will roll out guidelines for the resumption.

South African health officials said that memories of failures with HIV — and the considerable resources the country has since built up — were driving their fight against this new virus.