On February 14, 2020, Egypt became the first African country to record a COVID-19 case. The virus has since spread to the other 53 countries in the continent.

In many African countries, borders were closed, confirmed cases quarantined, and curfews imposed early, which helped countries to slow down the spread of the virus.

But there was deep anxiety about how African countries with largely poor populations, informal economies and far fewer healthcare facilities would cope with the highly infectious disease.

A report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) had predicted up to 3.3 million deaths and 1.2 billion infections in Africa.

However, one year after the pandemic broke in the region, Africa is the least affected region so far, accounting for less than 5 per cent of global COVID-19 cases and 4 per cent of global deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

While Africa fared better at the beginning of the outbreak compared to other regions, the continent suffered a devastating economic crisis which triggered the continent’s first recession in 25 years, according to the World Bank.

“In sub-Saharan Africa last year, the GDP fell by 2.6 per cent and the IMF predicts that Africa will be the slowest growing large region in 2021,” Regional Director of the WHO, Matshidiso Moeti, said at a press briefing marking one year of COVID-19 in Africa

“The sociology economic impact of this pandemic will have ongoing repercussions for several years in African countries.”

An African Union (AU) study had projected that 20 million jobs were at risk in Africa due to the impact of the pandemic. Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil producers, Nigeria and Angola, could lose $65 billion in income, the report stated.

Unreliable data?

The early containment of the disease in Africa would have been held up as proof of the continent’s success in managing the disease but for several loopholes such as acute under-testing and unreliable data which health experts say are masking the severity of the disease and the true extent of its spread.

Although the disease started spreading slowly in Africa in the beginning, there has been a spike in infections and deaths since the beginning of the second wave late last year.

As of Friday morning, Africa has recorded over 3.7 million confirmed cases.

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Deaths from COVID-19 in the continent have surged by 40 per cent in the past month, pushing Africa’s death toll to 100,294, according to the WHO.

This comes as Africa battles more contagious variants and gears up for its largest-ever vaccination drive.

More worrisome are the concerns that the officials figures are significantly underestimated, raising the possibility that Africa may not be seen as a priority for scarce global vaccine supplies despite the urgent need.

Many African countries are still unable to afford mass testing and lack the capacity to collect reliable data on cases and deaths, especially in remote areas. The stigma attached to the disease, lack of information, and victims’ inability to either reach or pay for health facilities may also reduce reporting, health experts say.

Variant B.1.351, which was first detected in South Africa, has been detected in eight other African countries and variant B117 first found in the United Kingdom has been detected in six African countries, including Nigeria, the WHO said.

Scientists across the globe have successfully developed vaccines proven to be effective against the COVID-19 virus. Some countries have also begun the roll-out of the approved vaccines to protect their citizens against the deadly virus.

Most African countries, including Nigeria, are banking on benefitting from the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Assess Facility (COVAX), the World Health Organisation-backed programme, which was set-up to divide a billion doses across 92 low and middle-income countries.

PREMIUM TIMES looks at how five African countries most affected by COVID-19 are coping one year after.

South Africa

South Africa has since become the epicentre of the disease in the Africa region. The country confirmed its index case in a 38-year-old Italian traveller on March 5 last year.

South Africa on map

Accounting for almost half of the infections in Africa, South Africa is also the 16th hardest hit country in the world.

As of the time of reporting, the country has reported about 1 .5 million cases and over 48,000 fatalities, data from worldometer.info showed.

South Africa has the world’s highest rate of HIV infection, and those immune-compromised individuals are especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease.

On March 27, 2020, barely three weeks after recording its first case, South Africa’s government announced a strict national lockdown as part of measures to limit the spread of the virus.

The strict lockdown, which was extended for several months, was later eased with the reopening of businesses and worship centres. Public schools reopened in June 2020 but were forced to close again after some schools reported viral cases.

However, with the discovery of the new B.1.351 COVID-19 variant and increasing number of cases, the country was forced to place travel restrictions on some countries.

Several countries have imposed a ban on people who have recently been to South Africa from entering the country.

South Africa recently suspended the roll out of over a million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine due to failure to protect clinical trial volunteers from mild or moderate illnesses.

There are concerns that the vaccines may be less effective against the B.1.351 variant. The country of about 60 million people has so far tested more than 8 million samples for the virus.

South Africa has tested 146,751 samples for every one million citizens, according to worldometer.info .

Morocco

Exactly one year after the pandemic broke in Africa, Morocco stands as the second most impacted country in the continent.

Since detecting its first case in early March 2020, the country has recorded almost 500,000 cases of COVID-19, including over 8,500 deaths.

Morrocan map used to illustrate the story. [Photo credit: The Guardian Nigeria]

Morocco was hit hard last year when it recorded a higher number of cases prompting the government to lock down Casablanca and shut schools on September 7, the day pupils were due to return to classes following weeks of restrictions. All exits to major cities were also closed.

As part of new measures to curb the spread of the virus, the country suspended travel from a number of countries, including Australia. A state of emergency remains in place and a nationwide curfew is in force from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Public events are banned and restrictions apply to public and private gatherings.

ALSO READ: COVID-19 In Africa: WHO urges vaccination as death toll rises

Morocco has begun rolling out vaccines against the virus with two million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine already received, the BBC reported. Health officials say medical workers will have priority.

Morocco, a country of about 37 million peoples, has conducted over 5 million tests. Nearly 150,000 samples per one million persons have been tested, the highest of any African country.

Tunisia

Tunisia is the third on the list of highest number of infections in the continent. Having carried out over 900,000 tests, the country has found over 225,000 COVID-19 cases and over 7,000 deaths, data from worldometers show.

Tunisia on map. [Photo credit: TravelsFinders.Com]

Almost one week after its first official case was reported on March 2, the government suspended all travels, mandated working from home for non-essential workers, closed mosques, imposed mandatory confinement and nightly curfews, shut down schools and businesses, and banned public gatherings. Military and police forces were tasked with ensuring that these directives were followed.

While some of these restrictions have been lifted, the disease is still spreading as the country commences its vaccination campaign.

The country is expected to receive 94,000 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines.

Tunisia has tested over 937,000 samples and has a population of over 11 million. For every one million people in the country, 78,803 samples have been tested.

Egypt

Egypt, which reported Africa’s first COVID-19 case, is the fourth most impacted country in the continent, one year after the outbreak. More than 170,000 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed and over 10,000 deaths, according to data from worldometers.

Egypt on map

Egypt with a population of over 100 million has so far tested about one million samples. The country has tested nearly 10,000 samples per one million people.

Nigeria

Nigeria is the fifth hardest hit African nation.

February 27 would make it exactly one year since Nigeria reported its first COVID-19 infection in an Italian businessman who flew into the country in a Turkish airline that landed at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos.

Nigeria has recorded over 150,000 COVID-19 cases with over 1,800 people dead.

Nigeria declared a second wave of the pandemic last December. Nearly half of Nigeria’s infections were recorded this year with about 65, 000 infections reported since January 1, 2021 to show how rapid the disease has spread.

Meanwhile, health experts say the numbers do not give a &full picture& of the outbreak in the country. They say low testing in many states across the country means infections have been under-reported, a situation considered the biggest challenge in the nation’s management of the outbreak.

On April 28 , 2020, the Nigerian government announced its target of testing at least two million people within the next three months.

It has been seven months since Nigeria missed out on the ambitious 90 days’ target in July last year and yet, Africa’s most populous nation is yet to reach two million tests.

Nigeria with a population of about 200 million has conducted 1.4 million COVID-19 tests. Nigeria has tested only 6,884 samples for every one million people, according to data from worldometer.info .

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