Social gatherings are Corona super-spreaders, WHO warns

Monday, December 14th, 2020 00:00 |
Long distance matatus packed In Nyeri town. Matatu operators have decried shortage of passengers this festive season. Photo/PD/JOSEPH KING’ORI

Mwangi Mumero and Bernad Gitau 

The World Health Organisation is now warning that get-togethers and mass gatherings expected as the festive season fast approaches are Covid-19 ‘super-spreader’ events. 

In a statement issued on November 19, WHO urged countries to be on high alert for a possible surge in Covid-19 cases. 

WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti warned that a new cluster of cases could emerge in places that have so far been unaffected as people travel or gather for festivities.

“As we near the time of the year when people get on the move to spend holidays together, there is a bigger risk of Covid-19 transmission,” he said.

“In the face of Covid-19, complacency can be dangerous. At this critical moment as Africa begins to see an uptick in cases, we need to re-energise and recommit to wearing masks.

I know many are finding the public health measures cumbersome, but without action from everyone, Africa risks a new surge in Covid-19 cases,” he added.

Kenya is among 47 African countries that have seen a surge in cases since early October.

At least 19 countries have reported over a 20 per cent increase in new cases in the past 28 days compared with the previous four weeks, warns  WHO.

There have also been increased reports of health workers infections and deaths, particularly among more experienced medics.

Experts say number of infections can be lowered by wearing masks, limiting the numbers of people who gather together, observing physical distancing and practicing good hand hygiene over the festive period.

Kenyans, especially those based in urban centres travel en masse over the December holidays to celebrate Christmas and New Year with their rural folks.

They involve feasting, binge drinking and dancing in places where social distances and hygiene are thrown out of the window- creating good conditions for Covid-19 spread.

Risk assessment

WHO is urging nations to conduct risk assessment and then prepare for potential spike in cases and higher hospitalizations.

Governments should train more staff for contact tracing and clinicians to handle cases as well as ensure crucial supplies as well as boost screening at border crossings.

The global body has also launched a ‘Mask Up, Not Down’ campaign, which aims to reach over 40 million young people in Africa with positive messages on the correct use of masks through social media.

Warnings came even as it emerged that the annual rush to travel upcountry by Kenyans had remained low key.

A spot-check by People Daily revealed only a handful of passengers were boarding vehicles to various destinations across the country with others sending luggage.

Besides bus stations, in various retail stores, less activity was noted compared to previous years at this period. 

A retailer People Daily interviewed said they are saving to send children to schools early January. John Kiarie, a taxi driver in Nairobi and whose rural home is Molo , said this could be the first Christmas he would away spend in the city due to hard economic times.

“I am trying to configure how I will save for school fees, get nough money for treating my family and sending something to my parents. It is a nightmare arithmetic,” he said.  

According to various bus owners, most Kenyans had opted to send luggage home due to limited resources following the effect of Covid-19.

For instance, Mololine Services vice-chairman Kibera Muchai said the public transport sector has been hit hard by economic slow down brought by the effect of Covid-19.

Although he said the they had taken measures including checking passengers’ temperature, instilling hand washing points and fumigation of matatus, the number of those traveling upcountry had remained low.

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