File picture: IANS.
File picture: IANS.

African coronavirus cases set to rise as some slip through the net

By Giulia Paravicini And Duncan Miriri Time of article published Mar 19, 2020

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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

public spaces.

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.


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