JOHANNESBURG - The World Health Organization (WHO) would soon issue a programme of guidelines on how countries could lift social and economic restrictions, without risking a resurgence of the coronavirus and harming the global economy further, it said yesterday.
Almost all the countries with confirmed Covid-19 cases have implemented a partial or full lockdown, with restrictions such as physical distancing and contract tracing to curb its spread.
WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said it was essential for governments to put in place lockdown mitigation measures, before they have a negative impact and become unbearable for people.
“There are a number of parameters that need to be taken into account, obviously how the evolution in terms of new cases and how the virus is spreading, and if the measures are starting to have an impact,” Moeti said.
She said the WHO was compiling a strategy document and guidance on this to enable countries to figure out how to programme and analyse the impact of Covid-19, and whether the measures could be lowered or not.
“It’s not a matter of all or none. In South Africa, for example, the measures were progressively introduced,” she said.
“It might be that when the observations reveal that in some locality the situation is starting to show an impact, some of the measures can be reduced, while others will have to be sustained to ensure that we don’t have an upsurge of cases, if we do this abruptly,” she said.
The respiratory disease has killed more than 127000 people, with more than 2.1 million cases confirmed worldwide.
Covid-19 has spread to nearly every country in Africa, resulting in nearly 17000 confirmed cases and about 900 deaths across the continent, 34 of them in South Africa.
Moeti said the WHO had about $300million (R5.6billion) in its budget for its Covid-19 response and support, but it would require a further $300m for the next six months to support 47 African countries that have confirmed cases of the virus.
This comes in the wake of US President Donald Trump announcing on Tuesday that he was halting US funding to the WHO.
Moeti said West and Central Africa were of growing concern to the WHO, as Cameroon had confirmed more than 800 cases, while Niger, Ivory Coast and Guinea had reported a rapid rise in the number of infections in the past week.
She said 11 out of 17 countries with more than 100 cases of Covid-19 were in West and Central Africa.
“We are concerned that the virus continues to spread geographically within countries, and the numbers continue to increase every day,” Moeti pointed out.
“We are working with the governments to better understand what is happening on the ground, but this is worrisome as countries in these subregions often have particularly fragile health systems.”
Moeti said the WHO had been working closely with the World Food Programme, the African Union, national governments, and the Jack Ma Foundation to ensure that vital medical equipment supplies get to the people who need it most, the front-line health workers in Africa.
She said eight African countries had received medical equipment in the past two days.