African countries need to urgently ramp up their efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus, a regional disease control body has said, as the number of confirmed cases in the continent exceeded half a million.

The call on Thursday by John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) came as he warned new infections across Africa rose by 24 percent in the past week.

“The pandemic is gaining full momentum,” he told a virtual news conference from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, urging countries to increase testing and the use of face masks.

“We must adopt an aggressive and bold approach: #maskonallfaces, ramp up Test, Trace, and Treat, strengthen community response. This will save lives and save (the) economy,” he added on Twitter.

The #COVIDー19 pandemic has reached a critically new high level of cases in #Africa with over 500K cases. We must adopt an aggressive and bold approach: #maskonallfaces, ramp up Test, Trace, and Treat, strengthen community response. This will save lives and save economy!

— John Nkengasong (@JNkengasong) July 9, 2020

Of the 512,039 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the continent, 71 percent have been reported in just five countries: South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana and Algeria.

A shortage of reliable data afflicts many African countries, and some governments have been reluctant to acknowledge epidemics or to expose crumbling health systems to outside scrutiny.

Other nations are too poor or conflict-ridden to carry out significant testing.

Meanwhile, countries are moving ahead with plans to gradually lift lockdown restrictions in a bid to revive their economies. On Monday, Kenya announced the easing of movement restrictions despite being aware that opening up too quickly could lead to a spike in new cases.

Governments on Thursday also launched the Consortium for COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trial (CONCVACT).

The goal of the initiative is to secure more than 10 late-stage vaccine clinical trials “by bringing together global vaccine developers and funders, as well as African organizations that facilitate clinical trials”, according to Africa CDC.

CONCVACT is being implemented as part of the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 endorsed by African Ministers of Health in February.