WHO echoes Mkhize’s cautious approach on lockdown success

Dr Matshidiso Moeti. Picture: Twitter
Dr Matshidiso Moeti. Picture: Twitter

It’s still too early to tell whether the seemingly slower growth in the number of cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus in South Africa is a sign that the lockdown is working.

So said Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Africa, who echoed Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s own cautious optimism about the lockdown’s success: “The lockdown has been in place only for a few days. I think the reduction of transmission cases as a result of the lockdown will show only some days from now.”

Moeti was speaking at an online media briefing on Africa’s Covid-19 response on Thursday afternoon.

The briefing included experts from the WHO and the World Food Programme and was organised and supported by the World Economic Forum.

Earlier on Thursday, Mkhize reiterated that while the lower growth rate in cases in the past few days could be attributed to closed borders, the quarantine of travellers coming into the country and the lockdown to curb internal transmission, this could just as easily “rebound” after the release of lockdown measures.

South Africa has 1 380 confirmed cases – an increase of only 27 cases from March 31, with a total of 47 541 tests done.

I think it’s challenging to balance the feasibility of some of these physical distancing measures in contexts where people live in very small spaces

The country has been under lockdown since March 27 – but it is not the only Southern African country imposing restrictions to manage the spread of the virus.

“We are seeing an increasing number of African governments imposing critical measures, such as social distancing through lockdown, to fight the outbreak. South Africa, which has the largest number of cases [in Africa] has a lockdown in place; as does Botswana; there is a lockdown in Abuja and Lagos in Nigeria; and in the Congo where I [Moeti] am, since yesterday there have been restrictions on movement and curfews so this [restriction of movement] is expanding [in Africa].”

However, Moeti emphasised that countries needed to analyse their contexts and assess the feasibility of a lockdown before implementation – particularly those with very poor socioeconomic backgrounds.

“The potential economic impact of these lockdowns are of great concern and require that governments put in place measures to mitigate them so that people in low socioeconomic countries do not suffer unduly. For example, many work in the informal sector of the economy, or in markets where they need to earn money every day to put food on the table, so that is a concern for us.

“I think it’s challenging to balance the feasibility of some of these physical distancing measures in contexts where people live in very small spaces, communal spaces and where physical distancing within the house itself is a challenge,” she said.

“At the same time, countries are having to try all they can to achieve social distancing – especially in the early phases of the pandemic in these countries before getting wide generalised transmission. We think it needs to be assessed in the context of each country and it’s a good thing that countries are taking advantage of these measures but the actions taken need to be accompanied by mitigation measures of many types to ensure they are feasible,” Moeti said.

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