Doctors in Kano in north-west Nigeria are reporting a surge in fatal cases of pneumonia after local media raised concerns over a sudden rise in reported deaths in recent days.

Authorities in Kano have denied that Covid-19 is responsible for the wave of fatalities, variously blaming malaria, meningitis, hypertension and other illnesses for the increased mortality.

However, limited testing facilities, combined with poor infrastructure and communications, means this is likely to be a significant underestimate of the true extent of the disease.

“We are at the beginning in Africa,” Dr Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said last week.

However, the strategy has been crippled by a lack of equipment. So far about 10,000 tests have been administered, mainly on people showing symptoms. On Saturday the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s director, Chikwe Ihekweazu, made an open plea for more kits to expand testing.

Kano state has become the centre of the pandemic in northern Nigeria, with 77 confirmed coronavirus cases and one death. The only test centre in Kano was closed from Wednesday to Sunday for disinfection after an outbreak of the disease there.

“Over the past week there have been reports of mysterious deaths in our great Kano state and I’m here to assure everyone that investigations are already ongoing. Autopsies are still being carried out but so far there’s been nothing to suggest that they are linked with Covid-19,” Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the governor of Kano state, said on Monday.