Friday, 20 November 2020

Geneva: The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging African countries to be on high alert for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases.

This comes as nearly 20 countries in the region experienced an uptick in cases since early October after reporting a downward trend, then a plateau.

“Unlike the first wave of cases which was triggered by hotspots in Southern Africa, the latest increase is driven by the North African region, where temperatures are beginning to fall,” said WHO.

The agency is reporting that 19 out of the 47 countries in the WHO African region have recorded over a 20% increase in new cases in the past 28 days, compared with the previous four weeks.

However, 17 countries are also logging more than a 20% drop in infections over the past 28 days, compared with the previous four weeks.

Meanwhile, health workers, especially among the experienced, are getting more infected and losing their lives.

Large gatherings

Large gatherings and mobility have been identified as risk factors for increasing the spread of COVID-19.

WHO is concerned the holiday season can promote these risks, leading to super spreader events.

“As we near the time of year when people get on the move to spend their holidays together, there is a bigger risk of COVID-19 transmission,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

“New clusters of cases can emerge in places that have so far been unaffected as people travel or gather for festivities,” she added.

However, she believes that the risk can be lowered by wearing masks, limiting the numbers of people who come together, observing physical distancing and practising good hand hygiene.

“We can celebrate yet do so safely,” said WHO.

Risk assessment

WHO is urging member States to conduct risk assessments at the subnational level and identify areas of high risk.

Based on this analysis, WHO said local governments will be able to adjust their public health measures accordingly and be agile in their decision-making.

Meanwhile, efforts are being made to help prepare for a potential rise in hospital admission by training additional contact tracers and clinicians to handle cases.

The agency is also working towards ensuring crucial supplies are on hand and boosting screening at border crossing points.

Mask up

WHO said it has identified a worrying trend of disregarding safety measures among populations.

The agency has since launched the “Mask Up, Not Down” campaign as part of an effort to revitalise key public health measures.

The campaign aims to reach over 40 million young people in Africa with positive messages on the correct use of masks through social media to combat complacency, fatigue and misunderstanding around COVID-19 prevention measures.

“In the face of COVID-19, complacency can be dangerous.

“At this critical moment as Africa begins to see an uptick in cases, we need to re-energise and recommit to wearing masks. I know many are finding the public health measures cumbersome, but without action from everyone, Africa risks a new surge in COVID-19 cases,” said Moeti.

WHO is urging governments to invest in engaging communities and winning their buy-in and support for life-saving public health measures.

“Only by ensuring people in cities, districts and villages in Africa are committed to fighting COVID-19 will we overcome the pandemic.”