While COVID-19 cases have jumped in some countries across Africa, the overall picture suggests 'cautious optimism'
Rabat – After weeks of sounding the alarm bell, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is now capitalizing on “signs of hope” amid new reports of fewer COVID-19 cases across Africa.
“The continent-wide daily average was 10,300 last week, down from 11,000 the week before,” according to a recent BBC report.
With COVID-19 cases levelling off around Africa, CDC Africa head Dr. John Nkengasong appears cautiously optimistic about the future of the pandemic on the continent, the report noted.
Despite his generally sanguine attitude about how Africa has so far handled COVID-19, Dr. Nkengasong called on African governments and health authorities to double their efforts to decisively beat the pandemic.
The CDC Africa chief also said he is happy the continent is “beginning to bend the curve slowly.” He added, however, that “it’s very, very early – we are dealing with a very delicate virus that spreads rapidly.”
For Dr. Nkengasong, “cautious optimism” should be the order of the day as governments in Africa battle to curb what appears to be a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
He said: “We take this news with cautious optimism… We really want our population not to show what we call ‘prevention fatigue’, where we slow down on the measures that we are putting in place.”
The news comes just a few months after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the continent against complacency, saying it could be a hub of communal infections if governments and individuals lowered their guard.
That warning gained renewed momentum in the past few weeks as COVID-19 numbers exponentially increased across Africa. In contrast to the newest information, reports indicated that, compared to the early months of the pandemic in Africa and worldwide, case counts doubled between June and July.
One reason CDC Africa’s Dr. John Nkengasong called for more caution is his belief, widely held in Africa and beyond, that the notable discrepancy in testing and contact-tracing capabilities among African countries makes it hard to confidently speak of an African trend.
Countries such as Morocco, South Africa, and Egypt have recorded an upward trend in the past weeks.
At the same time, however, those are among the countries with more testing and contact-tracing capacities on the continent. In most African countries, COVID-19 testing has remained marginal, feeding the suspicion that the continent’s official numbers paint an extremely inadequate picture of its real epidemiological situation.
Critics have condemned that claim, however, saying it mainly aims to downplay the continent’s relative success in dealing with the pandemic.
That most cases are asymptomatic is another argument they have raised to make the point that no government in the world can claim its numbers adequately reflect the evolution of the virus.
Even as infection and death rates have continued to rise in South Africa and Egypt, Africa’s hardest-hit countries, the relatively low numbers of infections and deaths around the continent continues to fuel the suggestion that Africa is generally doing well.
Despite the largely relatively upbeat picture of COVID-19 in Africa, there are indications that a return to stricter emergency measures, including a total lockdown, is still on the table. The prevailing idea, in line with the CDC Africa chief’s “cautious optimism,” is that relaxation or premature celebration could prove catastrophic.
Morocco, where infection and death rates have recently jumped despite an overall climate of cautious anxiety, is one of the countries constantly debating whether to return to complete lockdown.
In a speech on Thursday commemorating the 67th anniversary of the Revolution of the King and the People, King Mohammed VI suggested that Morocco could reimpose an “even tighter” lockdown.
“The deterioration of the health situation today is unfortunate and does not leave much room for optimism. Whoever tells you otherwise — Dear Citizens — is simply lying to you,” the King said. “If figures continue to increase, the COVID-19 Scientific Committee may recommend another lockdown, perhaps with even tighter restrictions.”