Health authorities in Somalia say the country has been hit by a second wave of the coronavirus, blaming travels abroad and public gatherings ahead of elections for the increase in cases.
Minister of Health and Social Care Dr. Fawziya Abikar said cases have increased 52% in February compared to January. She urged people to wear masks and avoid gatherings.
Dr. Abdirizak Yusuf Ahmed, director of de Martini hospital, the main medical facility for coronavirus patients, told VOA Somali that hospitalizations, positive results, and fatalities have all increased within the last two weeks.
About 120 people died in Somalia in all of 2020, and more than 30 have died in 2021, he said.
“The trend that we are observing shows that most of the cases are imported and attributed to large-scale public gatherings, where essential public health measures are not enforced,” Dr. Mamunur Rahman Malik, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Somalia country representative, told VOA Somali.
“It is difficult to verify, but owing to election season, many new travelers, especially from countries which are currently in lockdown, have arrived,” he said.
The overall number of coronavirus cases in Somalia remains small, with just 5,183 confirmed cases, and 152 deaths to date.
Ahmed said it is “epidemiologically possible” that new virus variants from Britain and South Africa have reached Somalia.
He said travelers from Britain and South Africa have tested positive for the virus and are now in hospitals. Health authorities in Somalia sent samples to Nigeria to verify if new variants exist in the country, he added.
Malik warned that progress is at risk of being pushed back, as there is no strong public campaign to ban public gatherings or for people to practice public safety measures.
Health officials said elderly people are paying the price, as transmission is going on at the household level.
Somalia is expecting a shipment of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to arrive later this month.
WHO said Somalia will receive 1.2 million doses from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to vaccinate 600,000 front-line workers, including health professionals and staff in local governments.
More doses will come in March and April to cover 20% of the population. The Somali government will be responsible for finding resources to vaccinate the remaining 80% of the population.