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Lagos closes schools as virus shadow lengthens over Africa

by Oren Lumpkins (2020-04-04)

Visitors to a state hospital in Lagos collect facemasks and gloves and have their hands sanitised

4425494292_d1d6f8619f_b.jpgAfrican countries led by Nigeria and South Africa on Thursday ramped up action against coronavirus, a day after the continent recorded its first fatality from the disease and the UN's health chief warned it was time to "wake up" to the threat.

Nigeria said it would shut schools and limit religious meetings in its economic hub Lagos and capital Abuja, while South Africa, the continent's most industrialised economy, slashed a key interest rate to help shore up business.

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

"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. It said there was now "local transmission" of the virus in the city.

Ogun state neighbouring Lagos and regions in the northwest of the country introduced similar measures.

Africa's most populous nation -- home to around 200 million people -- has so far recorded just 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and is following other countries on the continent in ratcheting up its response.

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 so-called "megachurches" where thousands of worshippers typically gather each weekend for services.

- 'Wake up' warning -

Africa has been slow in experiencing the spread of the coronavirus compared to the Middle East and Europe.

It has notch