Family and friends observe social distancing during the funeral ceremony for Benedict Somi Vilakasi at the Nasrec Memorial Park…
Family and friends observe social distancing during the funeral for Benedict Somi Vilakasi at the Nasrec Memorial Park outside Johannesburg, April 16, 2020. South Africa is under a five-week lockdown in a effort to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

GENEVA - The World Health Organization said Friday that it was increasing aid to Africa to try to contain the spread of COVID-19 amid a big spike in the cases and deaths across the continent.

Compared with other regions in the world, the numbers of cases and deaths in Africa are still very low. But WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there were worrying signs that this was changing and that COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was taking root.

“In the past week, there has been a 51 percent increase in the number of reported cases in my own continent, Africa, and a 60 percent increase in the number of reported deaths," he said. "With the current challenge of obtaining testing kits, it is likely that the real numbers are higher than reported.”

Nearly 19,000 cases in Africa have been reported to the WHO and close to 1,000 people have died. The U.N. Economic Commission for Africa warned that the pandemic could kill at least 300,000 people and push as many as 30 million into extreme poverty.

Tedros said he had been speaking with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and heads of the African Union, International Monetary Fund and World Bank to strengthen support for Africa.

“The African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced yesterday that more than 1 million tests for COVID-19 will be rolled out across the continent starting next week. Strengthening and supporting African Union institutions like the African CDC will really help, not only for now but also for the future,” he said.

Countering criticism

Tedros is emerging from several days of bruising criticism by the Trump administration, which alleges he mishandled the coronavirus pandemic. To counter that impression, Tedros enumerated several other measures he's taken to manage this crisis.

In addition to increasing essential supplies of tests and personal protective equipment, Tedros said, he also is working to accelerate the development, production and equitable distribution of a vaccine to protect the world from COVID-19.

Tedros said that to get help in this effort, he had spoken to and received commitments from French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. philanthropist Bill Gates and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson had been hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus but recently was released.

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