Coronavirus: Unpacking the theories behind Africa’s low infection rate

Two months after the first coronavirus cases burst onto the scene in Africa, the disease seems to be spreading more slowly on the continent than elsewhere. What factors could be behind this apparent resilience?

It’s not yet the moment to declare victory, but all the same, the statistics are compelling: while Africa’s first COVID-19 cases were detected in mid-February, today the continent is only reporting 47, 118 cases and 1,843 deaths, compared with more than 3.6 million cases and over 252,102 deaths worldwide.

Statistically speaking, Africa is an outlier.

The continent, which is home to 17% of the world’s population, accounts for only 1.1% of cases and 0.7% of deaths. Even better news: with more than 12,000 recovered patients already, Africa appears to be more resistant to the coronavirus than other continents.

Is this simply because the disease arrived later on the continent and, as a South African study which projects the disease’s peak to come in September suggests, the worst is still ahead? For the time being, at any rate, no one is denying anymore that the virus seems particularly slow to spread on the continent. Read on to learn about the main theories being put forward to explain this phenomenon.

Climate

This is the most common explanation given. Like the flu, the coronavirus is believed to be a disease that thrives in the winter months and is not very resistant to heat, dry conditions or direct sunlight.

The theory appears to be corroborated by the fact that the countries most impacted by the pandemic have rather temperate climates and that the majority of cases are concentrated in either the far north or the southernmost regions of the continent, where heat and dry conditions are less extreme.

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