Mali recorded its first coronavirus death on Saturday, a day before the West African country voted in a long-delayed parliamentary election threatened by both the pandemic and security concerns.

The kidnapping of the leader of the main opposition party earlier in the week has also cast a pall over the vote, with a security source saying he is “likely” in the hands of a jihadist group.

Several opposition parties on Saturday called for the vote to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen 18 people test positive since the country’s first case was diagnosed on Wednesday.

Health Minister Michel Sidibe said late Saturday — just hours before polls opened the following day — that a patient who had tested positive had died earlier in the day.

“We have a death today,” he said, “because the virus was in his lungs.”

Though sub-Saharan Mali has had relatively few cases so far compared to other continents, the impoverished nation of some 19 million people — where large swathes of territory lie outside state control — is just the kind of state experts fear is particularly vulnerable

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