Four government ministers in Burkina Faso have been infected by the new coronavirus, according to officials, as the number of reported cases rose to 64 from 40, the highest in West Africa.
The ministers of foreign affairs, mines, education, and the interior have all tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, a government spokesman said on Saturday.
“The rumour has become reality … I have just been notified that I have COVID-19,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Alpha Barry said in a tweet late on Friday, referring to media reports that had speculated about his health.
Minister of Mines Oumarou Idani, Minister of Education Stanislas Ouaro and Minister of the Interior Simeon Sawadogo each confirmed their cases via Facebook posts.
A ministerial meeting was held on March 11, the government’s website shows, but it was not immediately clear if all the ministers attended.
A poor country of some 20 million people, Burkina Faso has been struggling to deal with a swiftly deteriorating security situation that has seen campaigns by multiple armed groups rendered parts of its arid territory ungovernable and forced nearly a million people to flee their homes.
International health officials worry that the virus could spread out of control and overwhelm its threadbare healthcare system.
The government has put measures in place to stop the spread, including closing land and air borders and banning gatherings of more than 50 people.
Last week all schools and universities in the West African country closed for the rest of the month.
But before a suspension of religious ceremonies on Friday, the central mosque in the capital, Ouagadougou, was filled with hundreds of worshippers packed together for prayers.
Burkina Faso reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 9, 10 days after the first case in sub-Saharan Africa was announced in Nigeria on February 28.
NGOs have warned that the conflict, displacement and weak health infrastructure could lead to a devastating loss of life.
“In a best-case scenario, which is what we’re living in at the moment, we would have only a few cases,” Jerry-Jonas Mbasha, cluster coordinator for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Burkina Faso, told Al Jazeera last week.
“In a worst-case scenario, we could see fatality rates five to 10 times higher than the global average.”
Al Jazeera reported last week that there were only 400 coronavirus test kits available in Burkina Faso, with only three health facilities in the country able to carry out the tests – two in Ouagadougou and one in the second city of Bobo Dioulasso.
Mbasha urged the international community to step in to help avoid a major crisis.
“We need technical and financial partners to come in and protect Burkina Faso, as do other African countries which are facing the same situation,” Mbasha told Al Jazeera.
Some 40 nations across the continent have reported more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19.
Worldwide more than 304,500 people have been diagnosed with the infection while nearly 13,000 people have died from the disease, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University in the United States.