WHO calls on Africa to remain vigilant as some countries ease lockdowns

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday called on African countries to maintain strict measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus while some countries have started to ease the blockages, including South Africa, which has registered the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in Africa.

In response to Covid-19, many African countries have implemented partial or total containment measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.

These measures have helped slow the spread of Covid, but it remains a significant public health threat, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement.

It is important to maintain strict surveillance, case detection and screening measures to end the pandemic, she said. If governments abruptly end these measures, they risk losing the gains that have been made so far against Covid-19, the WHO warned.

“It is extremely difficult to decide when and how to lift these measures,” Moeti said in a video message on Twitter. “There is always a need for balance.”

“We hope these decisions will be made taking into account the overall balance between allowing economies to continue to grow and halting the spread of a pandemic that can have a profound long-term impact on economies.”

South Africa began gradually loosening its strict coronavirus lockdown on Friday, allowing some industries to reopen after five weeks of restrictions that have plunged its troubled economy deeper into turmoil. The economy of Africa’s most industrialized nation was already faltering when the lockdown started on March 27 to contain the spread of infections.

To combat economic destruction, the government has adopted a gradual and phased approach to reopen the country from May 1.

According to the Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, around 1.5 million workers in certain industries return to work in the next phase under strict health conditions.

The production of winter clothing, textiles and packaging is one of the industries authorized to reopen factories. Restaurants will also open, but only for take-out deliveries. The controversial bans on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol will remain in effect.

Certain outdoor activities such as biking, walking and running will be allowed, but only for three hours in the morning.

Social distancing and the wearing of masks in public and at work will be compulsory.

Minister of Cooperative Governance Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma warned “businesses that breaches of regulations will be forced to close”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has decided to stagger the relaxation of the locking restrictions in order to strike a balance between protecting public health and the economy.

“Our people need to eat. They have to make a living,” said Ramaphosa.

“Companies must be able to produce and trade, they must generate income and keep their employees employed.”

The South African economy was in recession and in shock from weak growth and high debts before the pandemic arrived.

The number of confirmed infections in the country has risen to 5,647 since March 5, the date the first case was detected. It also recorded the highest number of deaths in Covid-19 in Africa, with 103 deaths.

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(FRANCE 24 with AFP)