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Health chiefs initially put the deaths down to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension or malaria but now believe coronavirus could be the real killer. The sharp increase in the number of mostly unexplained deaths in northern Nigeria raises fears of a large spread of COVID-19 in one of the poorest regions in the world.

We cannot deny the fact that the COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in Kano and the region

Ibrahim Musa

In the past month, Kano, the most populous city in the north with nearly 10 million people, has witnessed hundreds of deaths, especially among the elderly.

Kano state officially registered 666 infections and 32 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, Nigeria’s second largest outbreak after the capital Lagos in the south of the country.

The number of tests carried out, particularly in the north, is insignificant.

But in this predominantly Muslim region, relatives bury the dead just hours after their death, without the possibility of autopsies.

Authorities must therefore conduct “verbal autopsies”, asking families about the symptoms before they die.

Ibrahim Musa, a doctor in the region, said: “When Kano sneezes, the whole of the North catches the flu.

“We cannot deny the fact that the COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in Kano and the region, but the other epidemics that preceded this pandemic add further complications to the management of this crisis.”

The centres of mysterious deaths are now multiplying in neighbouring states: Jigawa, Yobe and recently in the city of Azare, in the state of Bauchi, where a team of epidemiologists was sent after the deaths of 110 people.

And thousands of street children were sent back to their villages at the start of the containment, raising fears that they may have spread the coronavirus across all neighbouring states.

More than 4.37 million people have been reported to have been infected by coronavirus globally and 295,923 have died.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

(Additional reporting by Maria Ortega)

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