Coronavirus | SA will lock down if necessary, says WHO rep | Fin24
 
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Coronavirus | SA will lock down if necessary, says WHO rep

Mar 19 2020 17:39
Khulekani Magubane, Fin24
coronavirus

Medical staff, with protective clothing, arriving to take the temperature of a driver during sanitary checks at Jedrzychowice border crossing, between Poland and Germany, in a measure to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Odd Andersen, AFP)

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South Africa will implement lockdown if necessary, World Health Organisation representative to SA Owen Kaluwa told a panel discussion of the World Economic Forum on Thursday.

The panel was discussing the impact of the coronavirus on the African continent.

After announcing preventative measures and precautions on Sunday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa advised South Africans to work from home and avoid public transport where possible, as well as exercising social distancing.

On Thursday, government announced that confirmed cases jumped from 116 on Wednesday to 150 on Thursday. While earlier cases in the beginning of March came from travelers returning to South Africa, the number of local transmissions has gathered pace.

Kaluwa said he was confident that the South African government appreciated the seriousness of the situation and that government would introduce precautions to address the challenge if and when they became appropriate.

Informal settlements 'critical'

"The president of South Africa declared a national disaster. With that, a number of measures were put in place to help the country contain the virus and start mitigation. I suppose the question of lockdown is a national decision and if they see it fit, they will probably do so," said Kaluwa.

Kaluwa acknowledged that the rise of coronavirus in South Africa’s biggest cities presented a risk that the virus could begin spreading among informal settlements, making it even harder to contain.

"The informal settlement issue is critical as if the virus enters that environment it will become much more difficult to limit. We must raise awareness on hygiene and implement measures in informal settlements," Kaluwa said.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, told the teleconference discussion that while the virus was slower to spread on the African continent, the relative lack of critical infrastructure in many African countries could prove fertile ground for the virus if authorities do not act.

"The socioeconomic circumstances of many Africans will make social distancing a challenge. Many people on the continent live in small spaces with large families with no facilities in place. Some households do not have running water, so hand washing might not occur as regularly as needed," Moeti said.

Moeti said, with at least 30 African countries affected, interventions did well to grow the number of testing laboratories on the continent to have laboratories in 40 countries, albeit mostly in each country's central cities.

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