JUBA, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- Health officials in South Sudan on Monday warned that non-adherence to COVID-19 preventive measures could derail efforts to fight the virus and fuel the spread of the pandemic in the east African country.

Thou Loi, Spokesperson of South Sudan's Ministry of Health, said authorities are concerned about continued disrespect of control and preventive measures introduced to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Normal functions are back. People are crowding, and there is no social distancing and people are not wearing masks. We simply do not know what is happening with the virus," Thoi told reporters in Juba on Monday.

South Sudan reported its first COVID-19 on April 5, and the number of confirmed cases has so far risen to 2,472, with 47 deaths and 1,264 recoveries as of Aug. 9.

Loi said authorities are worried about ongoing community transmission despite the country confirming few cases in the past weeks.

"The fact that our laboratory is testing less positive cases also goes with the fact that we are testing less samples," Loi said.

"So, the public should be mindful that we need to consistently adhere to those preventive measures that we communicated: hand hygiene, social distancing and wearing of face masks," he added.

Land borders, learning and religious institutions remain closed across South Sudan since a ban on social gatherings and movement was imposed in mid-March.

But on Sunday, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir vowed to re-open places of worship that were closed four months ago.

Mathew Tut, director of South Sudan's National Public Health Operation and Emergency Centre, said less than 20 percent of confirmed cases exhibit signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

He said the trend is worrying because many cases could go undetected without strengthened testing and preventive measures.

Tut said the health ministry has partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners to conduct studies in a bid to better understand the trend of community transmission and magnitude of the COVID-19 in South Sudan.

"To understand the magnitude of the spread and community transmission that is happening, the ministry of health, WHO and other partners have embarked on a community survey," Tut said.

Wamala Joseph Francis, WHO's Country Preparedness and International Health Regulation Officer, said the recent increase in COVID-19 cases across the African continent highlights the importance of maintaining public health measures to curb spread of the virus.

Wamala advised the South Sudanese government to step up efforts to control the spread of the disease across the country. Enditem

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