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WHO warns of increasing COVID-19 cases as African nations reopen gateways

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Anambra ex-gov Obi urges vigilance, obedience to preventive protocols

The World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, warned of an impending surge in COVID-19 infections, as African nations reopen their land and air borders.

The global agency, in a statement after a virtual press conference held alongside the World Economic Forum, said it was important for governments to be proactive in mitigating the risks posed by the resumption of commercial flights.

The panelists at the gathering included WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti; Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the African Union Commission, Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid; and Regional Director, Western and Central African Office, International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Prosper Zo’o Minto’o.

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Aside the surge, the International Air Transport Association feared that the impact of the disease on airlines was likely to be severe, as continental operators could lose as high as $6 billion in revenue.

According to an ICAO analysis, international air traffic in Africa could witness a 69 per cent drop and 59 per cent decline in domestic capacity in a worst-case scenario.

The apex health agency, however, acknowledged that many African governments acted swiftly by implementing travel restrictions in the early days of the pandemic, noting that 36 nations shut their borders; eight suspended flights from high COVID-19 countries, while others had partial or no restrictions.

So far, Cameroun, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Zambia have resumed commercial flights. The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is to open members’ airspace on July 21.

WHO observed that while open borders were key to the free flow of goods and people, its initial finding, nonetheless, showed that lockdowns along with public health measures reduced the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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Regional Director Moeti said: “Air travel is vital to the economic health of countries. But as we take to the skies again, we cannot let our guard down. Our new normal still requires stringent measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.”

Moreover, a research published yesterday in the journal Cell confirmed the existence of a new variant of the ailment that dominates global infections and out-competes the original strain, but might not make patients sicker.

The researchers discovered that COVID-19 also known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has a low mutation rate, much lower than the viruses that cause influenza and Human Immuno-Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

In the interim, former governor of Anambra State and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) vice presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections, Peter Obi, has called on Nigerians to be more vigilant and adhere to all safety protocols, stating that the pandemic was still very much around.

In a statement, the two-term state chief executive explained that the lifting of inter-state travels was only a measure taken by the Federal Government to ease the hardship on the people whose source of livelihood depended on that, and also to keep the economy alive.

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