Editorial: No time for complacency as COVID-19 ravages several jurisdictions

The WHO’s first African head, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has cautioned African states to prepare for the worst as the rapid spread of COVID-19 takes a toll on the continent.

African governments and health officials are racing to try and contain spreading of the new virus on a continent of 1.3 billion people. Officials are concerned that rapid spread of the virus could overwhelm the region’s struggling health-care system.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that although the number of cases in Africa pale into insignificance when compared with Europe, the USA and other regions, there is no reason for complacency.

Currently, 16 people have died from Covid-19 across the continent – which is still on the low side compared to, let’s say, Italy where daily deaths exceed 200, with the total number of cases rising to 31,506 and climbing.

South Africa has declared a state of disaster – restricting travel, closing schools, banning mass gatherings and ordering bars to close or limit numbers to 50. Health experts warn that strained public health systems in Africa could become quickly overwhelmed if the virus takes hold, especially in overcrowded urban areas.

Just yesterday, 29 people died in England from Covid-19 – bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in England to 128. It takes the UK total to 133 from 105 on Wednesday.

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In Spain, the death toll has risen up to 767; and this frightening statistic should send a strong signal to African states that the low numbers recorded so far give no time for complacency: that is why the WHO boss is urging his fellow Africans to wake up and institute measures to curb spread of the virus across the continent, since health systems are generally fragile.

News coming out of China, on the other hand, offers a glimmer of hope. The country recorded no locally transmitted cases since yesterday, and this demonstrates that with the right measures put in place countries can deal with the menace.

Yesterday, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control warned that the continent is very likely to see a rise in rates of coronavirus infection because many cases are going unreported or untested. The virus is now in 34 African countries — and experts worry that health-care systems in many places will buckle under an outbreak.

As at the time of going to press, the number in Ghana had risen to eleven; which indicates why extreme care is required to contain its spread.

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