By Chris Bishop
As South Africa completed three weeks of lockdown the World Health Organisation hinted that the country is turning the tide against COVID-19. On the other side of the coin officials warn that the outbreak is only likely to peak, in Africa, in September.
Sub-Saharan Africa has around 17,000 cases and has suffered more than 900 deaths and the numbers increase every day, a weekly web briefing by WHO heard Thursday. South Africa has the most cases on the continent and along with Algeria and Cameroon it has half of the total.
South Africa, with its mobile testing, road blocks, complete shutdown and close tracking of contact tracing has been seen as the most aggressive, of the 47 nations in the region, in fighting the outbreak..
“I think South Africa is bending the curve.. .We think what they have done is starting to make an impact, but we have to continue to monitor it. They have taken a very aggressive attitude to testing” says Matshidiso Moeti, the regional director for Africa for WHO.
“Even before the outbreak, the South African government already had a public platform in place. It had carried out strong work in contact tracing a isolating and physical distancing. It too was early with closing schools, prohibiting sporting and social gatherings.”
Yet many other, less travelled, parts of the continent are likely to struggle with this. There were fears raised by journalists they it may be easier to carry out social distancing in an air-conditioned supermarket in Johannesburg, with hand sanitizer on tap, than it is in a teeming open-air market in Goma.
“The size of dwellings, the size of families, even the weather in many places is going to make it ery difficult. When people are going to outside markets, where we buy a lot of our food, it is very difficult to keep people apart , if you stay away from people you might disadvantage what you are going to earn for the day… People should be wearing masks when they go shopping. People should have sanitizers and soap,” says Moeti, who added that the outbreak was expected to peak in Africa in Semptember.
“I think it is a very good reminder that our response to COID 19 needs to be put in the context of many other issues.” South Africa has extended its 21-day lockdown for a further two weeks until the end of April.