WHO calls for caution as COVID restrictions eased in Africa
A World Health Organization (WHO) regional office on Thursday called for caution and consideration of the risks involved, with multiple African countries lifting their COVID-19 health restrictions, reported Xinhua.
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, at an online press conference.
With the evolution of the pandemic, countries in the region have moved toward prioritized contact tracing, where only contacts at high risk of infection or falling severely ill are followed.
Based on an 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," said Moeti.
According to WHO, the continent is seeing a decline of COVID-19 testing rates. In the first quarter of 2022, only 27 percent of countries were achieving the weekly target of tests per 10,000 people, a concerning decrease in testing rates compared with 2021, when 40 percent 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," noted Moeti.
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 percent 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," said Moeti.