As Covid-19 spreads, Africa must prepare for worst: WHO chief

By Nerea Gonzalez

Johannesburg, Mar 21 (efe-epa).- Over 1,000 people in Africa have contracted the novel coronavirus amid calls from the World Health Organization to “prepare for the worst”.

“The best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst and prepare today,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on this week in Geneva.

“I think Africa should wake up, my continent should wake up,” the Ethiopian added.

As of Saturday, 40 of the 54 African states had been affected.

Egypt and South Africa, with 285 and 240 cases respectively, are the main hotspots followed by Algeria (95) and Morocco (86).

According to the most recent data published Saturday, the number of infections stood at 1,088 with 31 deaths. Egypt (8) and Algeria (12) were the nations with the largest death toll.

Despite most cases being imported ones, local transmissions are accelerating in the countries with the largest concentration of infections.

There is great concern over the rapid increase in cases in South Africa, which has gone from 24 to 240 cases in a week, and Burkina Faso with 64 infections and at least four ministers who have tested positive for Covid-19.

Africa remains the least affected continent in the world, but many fear the region could be devastated by the pandemic due to its poor health care services, the wide presence of other diseases (such as AIDS or tuberculosis) and deficient sanitation infrastructure.

These issues particularly affect rural areas and crammed informal settlements where the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society live.

UNICEF has warned that up to 63 percent of urban residents in sub-Saharan Africa live with limited access to water making basic hygiene protocols, like the regular washing of hands, a challenge.

Isolation measures, which have been an instrumental practice to contain the spread of coronavirus, are also very complex to implement in overcrowded shanty-towns and houses.

That fear also extends to conflict areas like central and southern Somalia, under the control of the Al Shabab jihadist group, and refugee camps in South Sudan, the Lake Chad Basin and northern Kenya.Amid myriad concerns, many countries are choosing to take drastic measures as soon as evidence of infections has been recorded.

These included the closing of the borders, schools and universities, and limiting internal movements to a minimum.

Bans on allowing travellers from risky countries – like China, the United States, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom – have also become popular containment measures.

Bars and venues are already closed in large cities like Johannesburg, where attempts are being made to encourage the population to adapt to the growing risk by distributing soap in the “townships” (former ghettos non-whites).

But what many are concerned about is that many will not get this message.

Many areas do not have access to television or the Internet.

Human Rights Watch criticized the Ethiopian government this week for keeping thousands of people in the Oromia region without access to a telephone or internet for months, in an attempt to contain opposition movements.

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