Avoid Lockdowns When Containing COVID-19, Africa CDC Says
Severe lockdowns are no longer an effective way to contain the spread of COVID-19, according to the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
John Nkengasong’s pronouncement was made at a news conference, during which he praised South Africa’s less-severe lockdown approach as COVID-19’s omicron variant spread through the country in mid-December.
“We are very encouraged with what we saw in South Africa during this period where they look at the data in terms of severity [of infections],” Nkengasong said. “The period where we are using severe lockdowns as a tool is over.”
Shortly after omicron was detected in November, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa urged people not to panic because most patients in the country were experiencing milder symptoms than those produced by previous strains. He addressed the matter during a trip to Ghana in early December.
“Our hospital admissions are not increasing at an alarming rate, meaning that while people are testing positive, they are not admitted in large numbers into hospitals,” Ramaphosa said in a report by South African news channel SABC News. “For that reason, I say we should not panic because it is possible that while omicron is more virulent and it spreads, it does not seem to result in a more significant number of admissions, so we should take heart from that.”
When South Africa’s omicron-fueled fourth wave of infections hit a record high in December, the government did not impose severe restrictions, unlike previous waves.
After the wave peaked in late December, Ramaphosa ended an all-night curfew, reopened schools and allowed more people to attend public gatherings, although the highly contagious strain was still causing new infections. By early January, South Africa reported a consistent reduction in new cases.
COVID-19 Spurred New Initiatives
To reduce the effects of COVID-19 outbreaks, the Africa CDC established the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus, which has met with the Bureau of the Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government to review the continent’s response to the pandemic.
Through that coordination, Africa established several initiatives to combat COVID-19, including the Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing in Africa, which has helped secure diagnostics, and the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, which has helped purchase important medical supplies.
“In principle, Africa could build on the astonishing gains it has made in surveillance and public-health responsiveness to outbreaks in recent years,” Nkengasong and Christian Happi, director of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, wrote in a January article for Nature magazine. “It could sufficiently invest in commodities to ensure its health security and position itself as a world leader in fighting infectious diseases.”
Such an approach will help control COVID-19, as well as other infectious diseases and future pandemics, according to The Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal.