The new coronavirus is now taking off in the world’s poorest countries, which join the battle with even fewer weapons than developed nations, some of which have fumbled the pandemic’s early stages.

From Venezuela to Pakistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo—and nearly every developing country between—confirmed cases have started to spike in recent days, a sign the contagion is advancing exponentially, disease-control experts say.

“Extraordinary action is required if we are to prevent a human catastrophe of enormous proportions in our country,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, among the nations hardest hit by the 1980s AIDS epidemic. Addressing the country Monday night, he announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown to be enforced by the military…

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