Lagos closes schools as virus shadow lengthens over Africa

Lagos (AFP) –


Sub-Saharan Africa's biggest city, Lagos, announced on Thursday it would shut schools and limit religious gatherings to help fight the spread of coronavirus.

A day after Burkina Faso announced the first virus fatality south of the Sahara, authorities in Nigeria's sprawling economic hub also declared curbs on gatherings.

"After consulting with our healthcare professionals over COVID-19, we are closing down schools and limiting religious gathering," Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu wrote on Twitter.

"We are limiting gatherings and events to no more than 50 people and appropriate social distancing must be observed."

The state government said schools in the city of some 20 million people would be shut from Monday.

Africa's most populous nation -- home to around 200 million people -- has so far recorded just eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 and is following other countries on the continent in ratcheting up its response to the global pandemic.

The central government on Wednesday announced an entry ban on 13 countries worst-hit by the new coronavirus.

The continent's largest oil producer has also said it will slash spending worth billions of dollars from its budget as a collapse in crude prices hammers its revenues.

- Enforcement problem -

Imposing the new restrictions on the chaotic and overcrowded streets of Lagos will be a major challenge for the authorities.

The city is home to an array of so-called "megachurches" where thousands of worshippers typically gather each weekend for services.

Meanwhile, the Sahel state of Burkina Faso, which on Wednesday reported the first death from coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa, said the number of detected cases had risen to 35.

The national coordinator for the fight against the disease, Martial Ouedraogo, said Thursday most of the infections had been reported in the capital Ouagadougou.

Others were in Hounde 250 kilometres (155 miles) away and in Bobo Dioulasso, the country's second largest city.

"The spread is in peaks and troughs," Ouedraogo told reporters.

On Wednesday, Ouedraogo said the tally of cases stood at 27, including a fatality -- a 62-year-old female legislator who had been suffering from diabetes.

Coronavirus has been slow to spread -- or be detected -- in sub-Saharan Africa, which experts fear is deeply vulnerable to the disease.

Africa has 675 known cases of the virus, according to a tally compiled by AFP.

Health specialists say the continent is a potential breeding ground for the virus, given poor sanitation, poverty, urban over-crowding and creaking medical systems.

- Mercy flights -

In West Africa, Senegal on Thursday authorised six exceptional flights by Air France and Air Senegal to pick up stranded travellers in Dakar and fly them to Paris, the French embassy said.

Senegal, a former French colony, has close ties with France in education, tourism and business.

On Monday, it announced it would suspend flights with France, Italy and five other European and North African countries as of midnight Wednesday to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, meanwhile, has called on his ministers to make a voluntary contribution of one million CFA francs ($1,700, 1,500 euros) each to a national solidarity fund, a spokesman told AFP.