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WHO calls for caution as Covid-19 restrictions eased in Africa

IANS | March 25, 2022 12:10 PM

BRAZZAVILLE: A World Health Organisation (WHO) regional office has urged for caution and consideration of the risks involved, with multiple African countries lifting their Covid-19 health restrictions.

With new Covid-19 cases significantly dropping, many African countries are increasingly curtailing Covid-19 surveillance and quarantine measures. While the need to reopen economies and resume social life is important, countries need to be cautious and take into consideration the possible risks, said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, on Thursday at an online press conference.

With the evolution of the pandemic, countries in the region have moved towards prioritised contact tracing, where only contacts at high risk of infection or falling severely ill are followed, Xinhua news agency reported.

Based on analysis of open-source data, WHO finds that by March 15, 22 African countries are no longer carrying out any kind of contact tracing, as only 13 countries are conducting comprehensive surveillance.

"It is a matter of concern that nearly half of all countries in Africa have stopped tracing the contacts of cases, " Moeti added.

According to WHO, the continent is seeing a decline of Covid-19 testing rates. In the first quarter of 2022, only 27 per cent of countries were achieving the weekly target of tests per 10, 000 population, a concerning decrease in testing rates compared with 2021, when 40 per cent of countries reached the same benchmark.

"This (the tracing), along with robust testing, is the backbone of any pandemic response. Without this critical information, it is difficult to track the spread of the virus and identify new Covid-19 hotspots that may be caused by known or emerging variants, " WHO Regional Director for Africa said.

While Covid-19 cases have declined across the continent since the peak of the Omicron-driven fourth wave in early January 2022, vaccination coverage remains far behind the rest of the world, with only 15.6 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.

"The pandemic isn't over yet and the preventive measures should be eased cautiously with health authorities weighing the risks against the anticipated benefits. Lifting the public health measures does not mean lifting the foot off the pedal of pandemic vigilance, " Moeti added.

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