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Expert urges more COVID-19 tests, use of face masks, Africa’s confirmed cases crosses 500,000

JOHN Nkengasong, Head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged African countries to scale-up coronavirus testing and encourage more use of face masks to forestall an escalating disaster.

Nkengasong stated this, as confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Africa crossed the half a million mark.

He revealed in a tweet that new cases of COVID-19 went up by 24 per cent in Africa in the past week, indicating an unprecedented rise in the rate of infections.

“The pandemic is gaining full momentum. We must adopt an aggressive and bold approach: #maskonallfaces, ramp up Test, Trace, and Treat, strengthen community response. This will save lives and save (the) economy,” Nkengasong said.

Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that Africa had 512,039 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 11,915 deaths, as of Thursday.

Five countries namely: Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, and Algeria account for 71 per cent of the infections.

South Africa has the most cases on the continent, with just under 76,000 confirmed, Egypt comes next at nearly 50,000. Algeria, Ghana, and Nigeria respectively have between 10,000 and 20,000 confirmed cases according to a report.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) also announced the country is experiencing a high level of community transmission of the virus as 73 per cent of the total diagnosed cases reported unknown sources of exposure to the virus.

The NCDC stated that two per cent of confirmed cases were detected in people with a travel history and 25 per cent of confirmed cases were reported to have contact with persons with travel history.

“Till date, 30249 cases have been confirmed, 12373 cases have been discharged and 684 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory,” the NCDC said.

With the increasing number of confirmed cases in Nigeria, NCDC  said compliance with Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures remains the most effective intervention to control the COVID-19 outbreak, especially in the absence of a vaccine.

Mixed opinion trails use of masks

Several countries have made wearing of face masks mandatory in public spaces, with citizens facing a possible fine if caught without one.

However, there is no general consensus if face masks can prevent coronavirus from transmitting from one person to another.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that healthy people do not need to wear a mask, but those who are feeling unwell and are coughing and sneezing, or caring for someone who is infected, should do so.

“Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water,” WHO stated.

Germany’s central research institute, Robert Koch Institute (RKI) advocates the compulsory use of face masks saying it is designed to protect the wearer from carriers of the virus.

Though, available evidence shows that self-protection, involving covering the mouth and nose can trap infectious droplets that are expelled when the wearer is speaking, coughing or sneezing.

The United Kingdom, UK, and Singapore have urged the public not to wear masks in order to ensure enough supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.

Also, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not specifically advocate the use of surgical masks but recommends the use of “simple cloth face coverings” made from common household materials to slow the spread of the virus and prevent asymptomatic people from transmitting it to others.

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