Bill Gates. (Getty)

In a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle this weekend, Bill Gates reportedly warned that  the coronavirus could overwhelm health systems on the African continent, and said that the virus is more concerning that Ebola.

“This disease, if it’s in Africa it’s more dramatic than if it’s in China, even though I’m not trying to minimise what’s going on in China in any way,” The Telegraph quoted the billionaire founder of Microsoft and healthcare philanthropist as saying.

“Will this get into Africa or not and if so, will those health systems be overwhelmed?"

He said the potential impact on sub-Saharan Africa could be “very, very dramatic”, and that the coronavirus could evolve into a pandemic, causing more than ten million deaths worldwide.

Gates said the coronavirus was more worrying than Ebola because although the death rate is not as high, it spreads far faster, The Telegraph reported.

“If you look at Ebola, most of the excess deaths were caused because the health service shut down. It’s not just the direct effect, it’s also the panic, the overload, and the things that effect health workers, because you’re already at very limited capacity.”

While there has been only one confirmed case of the coronavirus in Africa, there are concerns that other cases may not have been reported.

There is a big flow of people between China and Africa, which has increased sharply over recent years. According to Quartz, direct airline flights between Africa and China have jumped over 600% in the past decade.

By 2017, there were more than 200,000 Chinese labourers working in construction and other projects based on the continent, according to research by Johns Hopkins University. This number excludes traders and shopkeepers. The top 5 countries with Chinese workers are Algeria, Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Zambia – which together accounted for almost 60% of all Chinese workers in Africa.

Last month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $10 million (R147m) towards the fight to contain the outbreak in China and Africa.

Of that total, the foundation is giving $5 million to support the response in China, while the other $5 million is going to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention for screening and crisis preparedness there.

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