His predecessor, Pierre Nkurunziza, who had scoffed at the virus and entrusted Burundi’s protection to God, paid a heavy price for his nonchalance. He died, almost certainly of Covid-19 itself.
After months in which Africa escaped the worst of the coronavirus pandemic as the global centre shifted from Asia to Europe and then to the Americas, the number of African infections — and deaths — has begun to increase sharply.
At least 14,500 people have now died out of 667,000 confirmed infections.
That has raised concern among some experts that the world’s poorest continent may be about to enter a critical phase of the coronavirus outbreak.
“The pandemic is gaining full momentum,” says John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has mounted an effective continent-wide response.
As transmission of the virus gathers pace, he warns, the danger is that “our hospital systems will be overwhelmed”.
That is already happening in South Africa, the worst affected country on the continent, where confirmed cases are doubling every two weeks and intensive care wards in Johannesburg and Cape Town are overflowing. At the current rate, more than 1m people will be infected by early August.
Not all of Africa has been severely struck. Some countries, such as Botswana, Namibia and Gambia, have registered few infections and barely any deaths.
The island of Mauritius successfully stamped out an early rash of imported infections and has not recorded a single case of local transmission for nearly three months.
However, new spikes of infections in several African countries are clouding such optimism.
Of the states that have been harder hit, more than half of recorded cases have been in just five countries — South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Ghana — although that partly reflects their higher testing capacity.
But the pandemic has spread much further than that.
According to the World Health Organization, in 22 of the continent’s 54 countries, cases have more than doubled in a month, with states such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon and Djibouti showing sharp rises.
After a long period in which most infections in Africa were imported, mainly from Europe, two-thirds of countries on the continent are now reporting community transmission, the WHO says.
Malawi, a tea-producing country of 18m people in southern Africa, is a case in point. On the face of it, its numbers look reassuring, with just 51 deaths and around 2,700 infections by mid-July.
But healthcare workers say they are starting to see a significant rise in infections.
“Our first case was in early April and since that time we have had this very gradual trickle, trickle, trickle,” says Mina Hosseinipour, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina’s Malawi project in Lilongwe, the capital. “We were like: when is this thing going to come?”
The lack of deadly infections was all the more remarkable, she says, given a series of blunders that might have been expected to spell disaster.
Many of the Malawians who were sent home by the busload from South Africa, where they had been working, returned with Covid-19.
“We see these young people running around with Covid, just living their lives normally,” he says. “But we need to back this up with appropriate studies.”
“In terms of managing the pandemic, so far it is under control,” says Mr Kassory Fofana. “We are optimistic because our population is much younger.”
The second lesson is that more testing is urgently required. South Africa is testing around 50,000 people a day and countries such as Djibouti, Ghana and Morocco have made concerted efforts to test widely.
Yet, according to an analysis by Reuters, African countries had on average tested 4,200 per 1m people by July 7, compared with 74,255 in Europe.
Strive Masiyiwa, a Zimbabwean businessman appointed as a special envoy of the African Union, says that a pan-African medical supplies digital platform he has helped establish should enable a massive ramp-up in testing capacity.
The platform, which went live in July, is backed by a $3.8bn credit line from the African Export-Import Bank.
It allows African governments and organisations to pool their orders, making it easier to benefit from bulk pricing.
“There is now no excuse to say we can’t get test kits and therefore we can’t test,” says Mr Masiyiwa, who adds that governments can also use the platform to equip hospitals with oxygen units, protective equipment, medicines and ventilators in preparation for a coming wave of infections.