African countries urgently need to scale up coronavirus testing and the use of face masks, a regional disease control body said on Thursday, as the epidemic gains traction across the continent with confirmed cases topping half a million.
John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said new cases were up 24% in Africa in the past week.
“The pandemic is gaining full momentum,” he told a virtual news conference from Addis Ababa.
“We must adopt an aggressive and bold approach: #maskonallfaces, ramp up Test, Trace, and Treat, strengthen community response. This will save lives and save (the) economy,” he added on Twitter.
Africa had 512,039 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 11,915 deaths, as of Thursday, data from governments and the World Health Organization showed.
Five countries account for 71% of infections, Nkengasong said: Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, and Algeria.
A shortage of reliable data afflicts many African nations, and some governments have been reluctant to acknowledge epidemics or to expose crumbling health systems to outside scrutiny. Other nations are too poor or conflict-ridden to carry out significant testing.
Many have also started gradually easing lockdowns to reopen hard-hit economies, though governments are conscious that opening up too quickly could lead to a spike in new cases.