Covid-19 Africa Infections Accelerating – Reaches One Million Cases

- Botswana re-implements lock down on greater Gaborone zone as local transmission surges

- South Africa Accounts for over half of the continent’s cases

New infections of COVID – 19 in Africa are showing no signs of slowing down, but are accelerating with the number of cases expected to cross the one million mark this week. The cases have increased by over 50 % during the last two weeks.

In Southern Africa, one of the countries that has been doing very well in containing the virus, Botswana, has experience a sharp increase in the number of cases, and worryingly from local transmission. The new cases have led to government imposing an emergency lockdown for 14 days in the hot spot area of the Greater Gaborone zone.

Elsewhere in Africa, seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa which had imposed lockdowns and have now started easing them have experienced a 20% jump in cases over the past two weeks. Some countries such as the Republic of the Congo and Morocco have had to re-implement partial restrictions because of an increase in cases.

Most worrying is the numbers in South Africa, which currently has over half a million cases. However, only five countries account for about 75% of the cumulative COVID-19 cases – they are Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. South Africa alone accounts for around half of the continent’s total cases. Deaths are also increasing. A total of 4376 new deaths were recorded during the last 14 days, representing a 22% increase from the previous two weeks.

In Africa collectively, at some point in a little more than three weeks, the number of cases on the continent almost doubled to 889 457, with 18 806 deaths.

“As Africa approaches one million cases, the continent is at a pivotal point,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa last week. “The virus has spilled out of major cities and spread into distant hinterlands. Countries need to keep apace and urgently decentralize their key response services. We can still stop COVID-19 from reaching full momentum, but the time to act is now.”

One of the most important collective responsibilities is to protect front line health workers, who are at high risk. Forty-one African countries have reported nearly 14 000 health worker infections. In 16 countries which reported health worker infections over the past month, nearly a quarter recorded an increase in the past two weeks compared with the preceding fortnight.

Expanding the scale and quality of public health measures such as testing, contact tracing, isolation and care of patients remain central to the response, as well as preventing infection through handwashing, physical distancing and wearing of masks. Lifting of lockdowns that have helped to slow down the spread of COVID-19 should be evidence-based, phased and targeted.

Under-reporting of cases is a challenge as testing for COVID-19 in Africa remains low by global benchmarks, but capacity has expanded significantly. About 7.7 million tests have been performed since February. The number of tests performed per 10 000 population as of mid-July was below 100 in 43 countries out of the 54 assessed. This must improve.

Although infections are on the rise across the continent, the trend is varied. Nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa have reported a decline in cases over the past three weeks. Gabon and Mauritania have made significant progress, with the time it takes for case numbers to double increasing. In Djibouti and Tunisia, very few cases have been reported for the last few weeks, and most are imported. In Egypt, Africa’s second most populous country and one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, a decline in cases has been observed over the last five weeks.

WHO is supporting countries respond to COVID-19 by providing technical guidance, crucial medical equipment and has remotely trained more than 72 000 health workers and partnered with regional and national professional associations to build on existing capacity. Through an online supply portal, WHO, other United Nations agencies and partners have also organized shipments of more than 650 requests of key equipment, including more than 2400 oxygen concentrators to 47 countries in the region. Additional Reporting by (WHOafricanews.)

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