Africa could be devastated by Covid-19 if it spreads across the continent like the way it has in Europe, according to the deputy director for Africa with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Patrick Youssef told RTÉ News that the humanitarian institution is in a "race against time" to curb the spread of the illness across Africa.

The World Health Organisation has warned that the continent faces a "dramatic evolution" of the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the 47 countries in the WHO Africa region, which includes sub-Saharan Africa and Algeria, 39 are now affected compared with last month.

According to a recent tally by AFP, cases have risen across the world's poorest continent over the past week to a total of nearly 3,500 cases and 94 deaths.

Fear is growing that many nations are not equipped to deal with the scale of a pandemic due to existing fragile platforms caused by armed conflicts or a lack of funding.

Mr Youssef said that in Somalia, for example, just more than half of those in an urban setting have access to healthcare, while the figure is 15% in rural areas. Whereas in Burkina Faso, more than 1.5m people have seen their access to health services completely annihilated because of ongoing violence.

It would also be extremely difficult to implement social distancing measures in some parts, including north-eastern Nigeria and in Chad, where Boko Haram continue their insurgency.

This week, Islamist militants there killed 92 Chadian soldiers in an attack on an island in Lake Chad. 

Already in Zimbabwe, doctors and nurses have gone on strike over a shortage of personal protective equipment for health workers in nation's hospitals.

Mr Youssef said that aid agencies like the Red Cross "can’t just stop and let go" as their work is limited due to travel restrictions.

He added that everyone needs to face this challenge collectively by trying to equip health services that desperately need it while helping to spread the message and directives from the World Health Organisation.

The Irish humanitarian aid agency GOAL said that it is working with other groups to help fight the spread of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe.

Supported by Irish Aid, messages will be broadcast on radio to increase awareness about they illness, while campaigns will be set up in communities to demonstrate best hygiene and social distancing practices.

Some African nations have taken the step to impose curfews and strict lockdowns in response to the growing pandemic.

South Africa has recorded the highest number of coronavirus infections on the continent, with more than 1,000 confirmed cases so far.

The country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day lockdown after the number of infections multiplied six-fold in just eight days.

The police force is also taking tough measures, charging two men with attempted murder for allegedly continuing to go out after they tested positive for the virus.

"So it's not a fairytale to say the law will act and act very harsh on you," the police minister Bheki Cele said.

The World Health Organisation said that 42 countries are now able to diagnose the disease, which wasn’t the case a few weeks ago.

However, Mr Youssef said it would be a "huge challenge" for Africa to face this pandemic when it is already facing additional burdens.