LAGOS/ABUJA (Reuters) - An Italian man who has been confirmed as Nigeria’s first coronavirus case after arriving from Milan was in the country for almost two full days, traveling through Lagos and visiting another state before being isolated.
The case is the first in sub-Saharan Africa. Authorities fear the virus could spread quickly in a region where health systems are already overburdened with cases of malaria, measles, Ebola and other infectious diseases.
Lagos, with 20 million people, is the biggest city in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. The West African country, with a population of some 200 million people, has a shortage of doctors and hospitals are often poorly maintained.
The Italian man works for cement company Lafarge Africa Plc (WAPCO.LG) in the southwestern state of Ogun, the company said in a statement. It said it had identified people who had “direct contact” with him before carrying out “isolation, quarantine and disinfection protocol.”
The Ogun state governor, in a separate media briefing, said 28 people had been placed in quarantine by the company the man worked for, although he did not mention it by name.
The case has prompted a scramble by Nigerian authorities to try to “meet and observe” all passengers who arrived on the same flight as the man and to identify the places he visited before being hospitalized.
“We have started working to identify all the contacts of the person since he entered Nigeria and even those who were with him on the aircraft,” Health Minister Osagie Ehanire told reporters on Friday in the capital, Abuja.
The Italian, whose country has been hit harder hit by the virus than any other in Europe, arrived on Feb. 24 on a Turkish Airlines flight that had a connection in Istanbul, said Lagos state commissioner for health, Akin Abayomi.
After spending the night in a hotel near the airport, he went on Feb. 25 to his place of work in neighboring Ogun state, and stayed there until he developed a fever and body aches on the afternoon of Feb. 26, Abayomi told a news conference.
He was then transferred to a high containment facility in Yaba, Lagos state.
Ehanire said the infection was confirmed on Feb. 27 by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, and that the man was now quarantined and doing well.
Turkish Airlines did not immediately comment on the case. There are no confirmed cases in Turkey.
Nigerian stocks fell 1.63% to their lowest level in two months on Friday following the announcement of the coronavirus case.
The spread of the new coronavirus from China has hit global financial markets, and Nigeria’s economy is at risk from the tumbling price of oil, which accounts for 90% of its foreign exchange earnings.
The latest World Health Organization figures indicate over 82,000 people have been infected, with over 2,700 deaths in China and 57 deaths in 46 other countries.
Officials from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) are heading to Lagos to help address the case, and have activated its national Emergency Operations Centre.
International health organization said they were working alongside their Nigerian counterparts.
Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said it is in contact with NCDC and is working with the WHO and other partners to support the Nigerian government’s response.
In a statement it said it had deployed one epidemiologist to Nigeria to support assessment and response to the outbreak, and has shipped 1,000 COVID-19 laboratory test kits to the country.
And the WHO, which has said it already has experts in Nigeria, has identified Nigeria as one of 13 “high priority” countries in Africa. Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, told a Geneva news conference on Friday that Nigeria had “well-tested mechanisms for dangerous pathogens.”
He said Nigeria was able to utilize a laboratory network that had been developed to handle cases of Lassa fever, monkeypox and influenza.
Schools and offices in Lagos provided hand sanitizer to people entering buildings on Friday.
“There’s a run on suppliers at the moment for hand sanitizer and masks,” said Andrew Garza, chief operating officer of Lifestores Healthcare, a Lagos-based health technology company that provides inventory services to local pharmacies.
Garza said some stockists had sold out of hand sanitizer.
Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos, Camillus Eboh in Abuja, Giulia Paravicini in Addis Ababa and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Abraham Achirga in Abuja, Nneka Chile and Libby George in Lagos, Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa; Writing by Libby George and Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Frances Kerry and Matthew Lewis