The World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday warned that COVID-19 has continued to spread rapidly in Africa since the virus was first detected on the continent in mid-February 2020.
According the agency, more than 215,000 cases have been confirmed so far, with over 5,800 deaths and 98,000 recoveries as of yesterday.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, who gave the warning in a statement posted on its website, said, “The pandemic is accelerating – it took 98 days to reach 100, 000 cases and only 19 days to move to 200, 000 cases.
“Ten out of 54 countries are currently driving the rise in numbers, accounting for nearly 80 per cent of all the cases. More than 70 per cent of the deaths are taking place in only five countries: Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan.
“South Africa is the most affected, accounting for 25 per cent of the continent’s total cases, with the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces reporting high number of cases and deaths daily.’’
The agency said more than half of the countries in the continent were experiencing COVID-19 community transmission, adding that in many cases this is concentrated in capital cities, while cases are spreading into the provinces.
The statement quoted Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, as saying: “for now Africa still only accounts for a small fraction of cases worldwide.
“But the pace of the spread is quickening. Swift and early action by African countries has helped to keep numbers low but constant vigilance is needed to stop COVID-19 from overwhelming health facilities.”
The UN health agency said many countries were quick to make difficult decisions and put in place lockdowns and key public health measures.
Moeti continued: “They put in place key public health measures such as promoting physical distancing, good hand hygiene and testing, tracing of contacts of people with COVID-19 and isolation of cases.
“With the support of WHO and other partners, governments also rapidly started to scale up health workforce and laboratory capacities, and to set up points-of-entry screening at airports and border crossings. “These public health and social measures have been effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Africa”.
WHO further stated that in recent weeks, countries began relaxing lockdowns to resume some economic and social activities, noting that the shutdowns have come at considerable socio-economic cost.
The statement further quoted Moeti as saying: “Stay-at-home orders and closing of markets and businesses have taken a heavy toll, particularly on the most vulnerable and marginalised communities.
“So, the need to balance between saving lives and protecting livelihoods is a key consideration in this response, particularly in Africa”.
According to WHO, easing restrictions should be a controlled process and needs to be coupled with ensuring that widespread testing capacities and mechanisms are in place.
“These steps need to be constantly adapted according to the trends in the data and maintained until the pandemic is contained or there is a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 which is accessible to everyone. As countries ease restrictions, health authorities will need to ensure continuity of essential health care services while also resuming the full gamut of routine health services,” Moeti said.