Coronavirus cases in Africa could surge from just thousands now to 10 million within three to six months

Coronavirus cases in Africa could surge from just thousands now to 10 million within three to six months, according to provisional modeling, a regional World Health Organization (WHO) official said.

But Michel Yao, head of emergency operations for WHO Africa, said on Thursday it was a tentative projection that could change. He noted worst-case predictions for the Ebola outbreak had not come true because people changed their behaviour in time.

“This is still to be fine-tuned,” he told a media teleconference. “It’s difficult to make a long-term estimation because the context changes too much and also public health measures, when they are fully implemented, they can actually have an impact.”

The world’s poorest continent has seen more than 17,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and about 900 deaths so far – relatively few compared with other regions.

But there are fears that the numbers could balloon and overwhelm shaky health services.

“We are concerned that the virus continues to spread geographically, within countries,” said Matshidiso Moeti, director of WHO’s Africa region, which comprises 46 sub-Saharan nations and Algeria.

“The numbers continue to increase every day.”