COVID-19: Africa told to prepare for worst. What’s the response?

From imposing travel bans to prohibiting mass gatherings and shutting down schools, governments across Africa are increasingly adopting sweeping measures in a bid to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

The emergency moves come amid a worrying rise in the number of infections registered in recent days across the continent after weeks of relatively few reported cases.

As of March 19, 33 African countries had reported more than 600 cases and 17 deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. More than 40 people have recovered.

But Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said on Wednesday that the number of cases in the continent was likely higher and urged African countries to “wake up” to the increasing threat.

“The best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst and prepare today,” he said.

His warnings came as Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, barred entry to arrivals from 13 badly-hit countries. A host of other African countries have taken similar measures – especially in relation to travel from Europe, the current epicentre of the pandemic – and enforced mandatory quarantine of passengers from affected regions (find out more about travel restrictions here).

‘What about those who can’t access water?’
First detected in China late last year, the new coronavirus has rapidly swept through the globe, prompting the WHO earlier this month to declare the outbreak a pandemic. The wide and rapid rise in the number of cased prompted countries around the world to close borders, place citizens under lockdown and promote social distancing measures in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

While COVID-19 so far has no known treatment regiment, experts recommend a series of actions that can minimise the risk of infection, including the frequent and thorough washing of hands with soap and water.

Heeding the WHO’s calls, the presidents of Senegal and Rwanda, Macky Sall and Paul Kagame, have taken part in the agency’s #SafeHands social media campaign to show proper hand-washing practices. Other African leaders including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Liberian counterpart, George Weah, have urged their citizens to avoid handshakes and use alternative greetings.

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