The World Health Organisation has predicted a spike in COVID-19 cases ahead of the Christmas and New Year festivities which will witness an increase in social gatherings. The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said this during a webinar attended by select African journalists on Thursday.Moeti urged countries to be on high alert for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases even as nearly 20 countries in the region experience an uptick in cases.She said, “As we near the time of year when people get on the move to spend their holidays together, there is a bigger risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

“New clusters of cases can emerge in places that have so far been unaffected as people travel or gather for festivities. But we can lower the risks by wearing masks, limiting the numbers of people who come together, observing physical distancing and practicing good hand hygiene. We can celebrate yet do so safely,” said Moeti.According to the WHO director, after reporting a downward trend then a plateau, Africa has been experiencing a rise in cases since early October.

She said unlike the first wave of cases which was triggered by hotspots in southern Africa, the latest increase is driven by the North African region, where temperatures are beginning to fall.According to her, in the 47 countries in the WHO African Region, 19 countries have reported over a 20 per cent increase in new cases in the past 28 days compared with the previous four weeks.

However, 17 countries are also reporting a more than 20 per cent drop in the number of new cases over the past 28 days, compared with the previous four weeks. There have also been increased reports of health worker infections and deaths, particularly among more experienced health workers.

The WHO urged member states to conduct risk assessments at the sub-national level and identify areas of high risk.Based on this analysis, local governments can adjust their public health measures accordingly and be agile in their decision-making. Moeti said WHO is helping to prepare for a potential rise in hospital admission by training additional contact tracers and clinicians to better handle cases, ensuring crucial supplies are on hand and boosting screening at border crossing points. The WHO identified a worrying trend of disregarding safety measures among populations.

The health body also launched the “Mask Up, Not Down” campaign which aims to reach over 40 million young people in Africa with positive messages on the correct use of masks through social media, and to combat complacency, fatigue and misunderstanding around COVID-19 prevention measures.“In the face of COVID-19, complacency can be dangerous.

At this critical moment as Africa begins to see an uptick in cases, we need to re-energize and recommit to wearing masks. I know many are finding the public health measures cumbersome, but without action from everyone, Africa risks a new surge in COVID-19 cases,” Moeti said

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