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Homeland Security

Senegal Urges Calm After Confirming 1st Coronavirus Infection

By Annika Hammerschlag March 03, 2020

Senegalese officials are asking the public to remain calm after confirming the country's first case of coronavirus, or COVID 19.

The patient is a Frenchman living in Senegal who returned from a vacation to France on February 26. He had visited Nimes and a ski resort in the French Alps.

Dr. Ousmane Gueye is with Senegal's Ministry of Health. He says the patient had a high fever, sore throat, headaches and weakness but is now in stable condition and at Dakar's Fann Hospital.

Gueye says the ministry has been in contact with the plane's other passengers and that none are showing symptoms.

He says there's not a single Senegalese person who is infected, neither outside nor inside the country. People should not panic, he says. They should stay calm.

But business owners are already starting to worry.

Abdou Ba is an airport chauffeur. Just hours after news of the case surfaced, one of his clients cancelled their trip. Ba said he's expecting many other cancellations to follow.

He's also concerned for his health and has been avoiding physical contact with his clients for the last several weeks.

For example, he says he no longer touches his clients when he greets them, and he asks them to sit in the backseat. He's just taking precautions, he says, because no one is safe from the virus.

The Senegalese government has installed thermal cameras at Dakar's airport, which can detect if a traveler has a fever.

But Ba said he'd like to see more safeguards, such as more Health Ministry personnel stationed at the airport.

English schoolteacher Helene Coly says she feels vulnerable as her job also requires her to be in daily close contact with many people.

"Children are still going to school," said Coly. "We teachers are still going to school. We don't know what to do or how to protect ourselves. We just are moving on. Life is going on as if nothing is happening here."

The infection in Senegal is the second to hit sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria confirmed a case in an Italian national last week.

Health officials worry the virus could spread quickly if it gets into African countries with weak healthcare systems or those with close transport and trade ties to China, where the outbreak started.

To reduce the chance of spreading the virus, doctors recommend washing hands with soap, avoiding contact with those infected and cleaning frequently touched surfaces like counter tops and doorknobs.

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