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WHO calls on Africa to remain vigilant as some countries ease lockdowns

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa © Denis Balibous, Reuters

The World Health Organization (WHO) called on African countries Thursday to maintain tough measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus as some countries began easing lockdowns including South Africa, which has recorded Africa's highest Covid-19 death toll.

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Faced with Covid-19, many African countries have implemented partial or total containment measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.

These measures have helped slow the spread of Covid but it remains a considerable threat to public health, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement.

It is important to maintain strong surveillance, case detection and testing measures to end the pandemic, she said. If governments abruptly end these measures, they risk losing the gains that have been made so far against Covid-19, the WHO warned.

“Deciding when and how to lift these measures is extremely challenging,” Moeti said in a video post on Twitter. “There is always a need to balance.”

“We hope that these decisions are made having taken into account overall the balance between enabling economies to continue to grow and stopping the spread of a pandemic that can have profound long-term impact on the economies.”

South Africa began to gradually loosen its strict coronavirus lockdown on Friday, allowing some industries to reopen after five weeks of restrictions that plunged its struggling economy deeper into turmoil. The economy of Africa's most industrialised nation was already teetering when the lockdown kicked into gear on March 27 to contain the spread of infections.

To combat the economic destruction, the government has adopted a gradual and phased approach to reopen the country from May 1.

Around 1.5 million workers in selected industries return to work in the next phase under strict health conditions, according to Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel.

Winter clothing, textile and packaging manufacturing are among the industries permitted to reopen factories. Restaurants will also open, but only for takeaway deliveries. Controversial bans on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol will remain in effect.

Some outside activities such as cycling, walking and running will be allowed, but for just three hours in the morning.

Social distancing and wearing masks in public and at workplaces will be mandatory.

Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma warned "companies that breach regulations will be forced to close".

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President Cyril Ramaphosa took the decision to stagger the easing of the lockdown restrictions in a bid to strike a balance between protecting public health and the economy.

"Our people need to eat. They need to earn a living," Ramaphosa said.

"Companies need to be able to produce and to trade, they need to generate revenue and keep their employees in employment."

South Africa's economy was in recession and reeling from low growth and high debts before the pandemic arrived.

The country's number of confirmed infections has risen to 5,647 since March 5 when the first case was detected. It also has recorded Africa's highest Covid-19 death toll, with 103 fatalities.

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(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

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