COVID-19: November 23-30 declared Africa Mask Week

* Continent urged to remain alert over COVID-19 into festive season

By Duncan Mlanjira

In order to encourage people to continue to wear a mask to halt the spread of COVID-19, November 23-30 has been set aside as Africa Mask Week in cognizance that mask-wearing is diminishing and this is threatening. 

At the same time, as nearly 20 African countries have reported a 20% increase in new cases in the past one month — according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) — a warning has been issued of a possible surge in COVID-19 cases as families plan end-of-year festivities.

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Tuesday’s update from co-chairperson of the presidential task force on COVID-19, Dr. John Phuka, says there might be resurgence of the pandemic in most countries and during the period of the Africa Mask Week, people and businesses are encouraged to rally behind the significance of wearing a mask appropriately.

And it should not only be during this week, but adopt wearing of a mask as a way of life.

“Masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice.

“This is called source control. Apart from reducing the spread of COVID-19, facemasks play an important role in the prevention and control of other infectious respiratory disease transmission such as influenza.

“Compliance with other measures including physical distancing, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and adequate ventilation in indoor settings is essential for reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID19.”

In his situation report, Dr. Phuka said the past 24 hours of Tuesday, Malawi has registered eight new cases, two new recoveries, and no new deaths from 311 tests done.

The new cases are locally transmitted infections: four are from Blantyre Health District and two each from Lilongwe and Mzimba South Health Districts.

Cumulatively, Malawi has recorded 6,017 cases including 185 deaths and of these cases, 1,176 are imported infections and 4,841 are locally transmitted.

Cumulatively, 5,445 cases have now recovered and 99 were lost to follow-up, bringing the total number of active cases to 288.

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Meanwhile, according to Kenya’s East African newspaper, after reporting a downward trend then a plateau, Africa has been experiencing a rise in cases since early October and the WHO said the latest increase is driven by the North African region, where temperatures are falling unlike the first wave of cases, which was triggered by hotspots in Southern Africa.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti called for vigilance in the next few weeks to avert a further surge that could overwhelm health systems.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti

In particular, she cited Kenya, Morocco and South Africa where infections have been increasing.

She is quoted as saying: “As we near the time of year when people spend their holidays together, there is a bigger risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“WHO is worried a new cluster of cases could emerge in places that have so far been unaffected as people travel or gather for festivities.”

And speaking last week at a virtual press conference, Dr Moeti said 19 countries in Africa have reported an over 20% increase in new cases in the past 28 days compared with the previous four weeks.

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However, 17 countries are also reporting a more than 20% drop in the number of new cases over the past 28 days, compared with the previous four weeks.

Rwanda has closed 25 coronavirus treatment centres across the country following a successful reduction in positive cases.

Only seven treatment cases now remain active, and the Ministry of Health is confident these are enough to handle critically ill patients across the country.

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Of those still open, two are located in Kigali — including one treatment centre within the crowded Mageragera Prison — four in the eastern and southern province and one in the north.

“We closed all the treatment centres mainly because majority of the patients with minor non-symptomatic cases are treated at home,” Sabin Nsanzimana, director-general of the Rwanda Biomedical Centre told The EastAfrican.

“Those with severe coronaries symptoms only make up 30% of the total positive cases and they are treated at the national treatment centres,” she added.

WHO is urging governments to conduct risk assessments at the sub-national level and identify areas of high risk and based on this analysis, local governments can adjust their public health measures accordingly.

It is also calling for community engagement to ensure all citizens in cities, districts and villages across Africa are committed to fighting the COVID-19.

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