April 30, 2020 / 12:36 PM / a month ago

WHO says very concerned at community spread of coronavirus in West Africa

PARIS (Reuters) - The World Health Organization is worried by the community spread of the new coronavirus in a significant number of West African countries, the regional head of the organization said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured on the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) ahead of a meeting of the Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland, January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Sub-Saharan Africa has confirmed around 23,800 cases with over 900 deaths. A number of countries have issued targeted lockdowns in some major cities, as well as dusk-to-dawn curfews and restrictions on interurban travel, but have stopped short of nationwide lockdowns as in most European countries and South Africa.

On Tuesday, the government of Senegal said in its daily outbreak briefing that one case of community infection in the Casamance region of the country contaminated 25 other people.

“We are very concerned about West Africa where we are seeing some community spread, in a significant number of countries compared with others,” Matshidiso Moeti told a news conference, without identifying the countries.

Senegal, with a population of nearly 16 million, has recorded 933 COVID-19 cases since the outbreak, with 9 deaths as of Thursday. The government has declared a state of emergency, closed schools and issued restrictions on gatherings and travel, but cases have continued to rise.

Following a meeting with ministers on Wednesday, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, said he had requested new more coercive measures around interurban transport, markets and public spaces due to the “proliferation of risky behaviours”.

Other West African countries such as Ghana and Burkina Faso have started lifting lockdown measures due to concerns that a prolonged shut down could have a lasting impact on their economies.

WHO’s Moeti said decisions to impose or remove restrictions could be extremely challenging politically, but governments needed to use data.

“When a government decides not to lockdown a city, they need to be aware that there would be consequences in terms of the spread of the virus.”

“We hope that these decisions are made having taken into account overall, the balance between enabling economies to grow and stopping the spread of a pandemic that can have profound long-term impact on the economy,” she added.

She highlighted some encouraging signs elsewhere in Africa and said certain countries recorded zero cases in the last couple of weeks, but “admittedly relatively small countries such as Namibia, Mauritania and Seychelles.”

“They have put in place some measures, early measures starting with testing and contact tracing which have produced some results,” she added.

Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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