A number of African countries have begun easing their lockdowns, the Regional Office for Africa of the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in late May 2020. The WHO urges caution and indicates that there is a critical shortage of COVID-19 tests, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies in Africa.
Three months after the first case of COVID-19 was detected in sub-Saharan Africa, the region has made progress in tackling the virus. Many countries implemented lockdowns and key public health measures early and these appear to have helped slow down the spread of the disease, according to WHO. However, there are concerns that if these measures are relaxed too quickly, COVID-19 cases could start increasing rapidly.
Thirteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa implemented lockdowns along with other public health and social measures nation-wide, while ten more instigated partial lockdowns in hotspots. Preliminary analysis by WHO found that the doubling time – the number of days for case numbers to double in a given country – increased during the lockdown period in most of the countries of the region.
So far, a number of countries have begun easing their lockdowns, and according to WHO’s initial analysis, the impact on doubling time appears to be varying depending on the timing and duration of the confinement measures.
WHO has issued interim guidance to Member States, which encourage a gradual adjustment of public health and social measures, while constantly assessing risks. Beginning with the re-opening of international airports, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine of all travellers, the guidelines progress through a series of steps for countries to take to regain some normalcy.
As countries open up, good hand hygiene, coughing and sneezing etiquette, physical distancing and the use of masks will remain part of the new normal. The steps will need to be constantly adapted according to the trends in the data and maintained until the pandemic is contained or there is a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 which is accessible to everyone.
As countries ease restrictions, health authorities will need to ensure continuity of essential health care services while also resuming the full gamut of routine health services. This challenge will be compounded by ongoing global supply bottlenecks, shortages, and the necessity of repurposing staff for the COVID-19 response, WHO says.