This year, the authors of that study released a letter warning older people and those with chronic medical conditions to stay away from the Magal, and urged those who attended to wear masks and wash hands.
“During the event, streets around the Grand Mosque and the general market present an extremely high density of population,” the letter said. “All these conditions are very likely to favor the transmission of respiratory pathogens among pilgrims.”
Washing hands may be difficult. The number of people using Touba’s water multiplies during the Magal, and most years, there are water shortages. This year too, faucets are running dry, the local press has reported, except for a dribble late at night.
Many African countries have reported caseloads and deaths linked to Covid-19 that are much lower than in other continents, particularly in Europe and North America. Although many cases may have been missed because of low testing levels, epidemiologists say that the young median age of the continent is likely a significant factor, and that some countries’ hot weather and tendency to live much of life outdoors may play a role. Studies are underway to test the hypothesis that previous exposure to other coronaviruses may have strengthened some people’s immune systems.
Like many West African countries, Senegal had good protocols in place for contact tracing, partly as a result of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and can turn tests for the coronavirus around fast. It never reported many more than 100 new coronavirus cases a day, and over the past two months, its caseload has fallen. On Tuesday, that was only 19 of 777 tests done, the health ministry said.
But not everyone with Covid-like symptoms receives a test in Senegal, and with over 80 percent of Covid-19 cases in Africa being asymptomatic, according to the World Health Organization, many cases may go under the radar.
On a trip to Touba last Thursday, Senegal’s health minister told local journalists that he would be deploying 5,000 health ministry officials to Touba to monitor it and respond if necessary. He did not respond to calls or text messages requesting an interview, or answer questions about why the Magal had not been canceled and why many ministers were attending.