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Updated Feb 28, 2020

Nigeria is now the third African country with a confirmed COVID-19 case after an Italian citizen who works in the country flew in from Milan, the regional capital of Lombardy and the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak that has already killed 11 and infected more than 400. The Italian national was picked up after landing at Murtala Muhammed International Airport and is currently being treated at Mainland Hospital in Yaba, Lagos. He is in a stable condition.


Why It Matters

Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa, with Lagos the most densely populated city on the continent and the fourth most dense in the world, so any outbreak there could quickly spread and infect millions. Nigeria recently closed its borders to its neighbors due to smuggling concerns, which has sown distrust and damaged diplomatic relations. An outbreak in Nigeria could lead to border shutdowns that would hinder containment efforts by regional and international health workers, exacerbating the infection spread. 

During the 2014 Ebola epidemic, xenophobia spread about as quickly as the virus itself due to misunderstandings and misinformation on how contamination occurs, and inadequate public health incentives in place. West African governments learned from this outbreak and developed new institutions and protocols to address future outbreaks, but the relative lack of information on coronavirus and the lack of a vaccine at the time of writing raises fears that the region could once again be faced with an outbreak it is ill-equipped to combat.

Nigerian health minister Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire called for calm, assuring Nigerians and the international community that the country is equipped to handle potential cases of coronavirus infection. Sixty doctors have been deployed to the international airport in Lagos to assist with screening. Nigeria is not planning to halt flights from affected countries or to quarantine people arriving in the country.

Citizens are advised to regularly and thoroughly wash their hands, and to stay indoors and contact the authorities if they experienced symptoms such as a persistent cough.

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