African coronavirus cases set to rise as some slip through the net
Nairobi - Africa will likely
see higher numbers of coronavirus cases in coming weeks because
of the likelihood some are slipping through the net, the head of
a regional disease control body said on Thursday.
The virus has multiplied in Africa more slowly than Asia or
Europe, but 34 nations on the continent have now reported a
total of more than 600 cases. Worldwide, it has infected more
than 227 000 people and killed more than 9000.
"We are picking (up) some people but we are also missing
some people," said John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which is a branch of
the African Union bloc.
"The situation will get worse before it gets better because
the chances are clear that people have slipped through."
Over the past 24 hours, additional African countries
announced aggressive measures to restrict travel and close
Senegal and Sierra Leone said they would suspend all
international commercial flights. Democratic Republic of Congo
banned all flights from "at-risk" countries and ordered schools
and restaurants closed.
Chad, which recorded its first case on Thursday, and
Djibouti ordered schools closed, as did Zimbabwe, which has not
yet confirmed any cases.
Nkengasong said the number of confirmed cases in Africa was
expected to rise in coming days and such travel bans would delay
but ultimately fail to contain the virus.
"Anyone who has followed pandemics over the years, you know
that doesn’t work," he told a news conference in the Ethiopian
capital. "When you lock down countries, you should understand
clearly how to unlock the country."
Nkengasong said testing was going to increase as more kits
became available. US company Abbott, Swiss-based Roche
Diagnostics and California-based Cepheid's GeneXpert
were all ramping up production, he said. The testing could be
rolled out quickly through existing HIV infrastructure, he said.
Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation's (WHO)
Africa head, was less concerned than the CDC head about missing
cases. "We actually don't believe that there are large numbers
of African people who are undetected and infected," she said on
a teleconference with the media.
Moeti said 40 African countries can now test for the virus,
up from just South Africa and Senegal at the start of February.
WHO Africa is planning to help countries set up pop-up
hospitals that could be equipped with ventilators and oxygen,
she added. Moeti said countries should isolate suspected and
confirmed cases but without cutting off other nations.
In Kenya, which has seven confirmed cases, the government
will start doing random screenings for coronavirus, Health
Minister Mutahi Kagwe said.