AFRICA – The number of COVID-19 cases in Africa has surged at an unprecedented pace as the continent grapples with a third wave that has posed a dire threat to public health infrastructure.
The continent has so far reported 5,294,714 cases and 139,397 fatalities having managed to conduct 51,484,259 tests, according to data published by the Africa Centers for Disease Control (Africa CDC).
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said the continent is dealing with a surge in COVID-19 infections fueled by the easing of containment measures, cold weather and the presence of new variants.
“The third wave is picking up speed, spreading faster, hitting harder. With rapidly rising case numbers and increasing reports of serious illness, the latest surge threatens to be Africa’s worst yet,” Moeti said in a statement.
She said the continent can avert the worst outcomes as it struggles with the third COVID-19 wave of infections, subject to strict adherence to public health protocols combined with speedy vaccine roll-out.
Five countries including South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Ethiopia account for 62 percent of all cases reported in the continent as three major variants drive the uptick.
Ethiopia registered 99 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 275,601, according to the Ministry of Health.
Meanwhile, four more deaths and 642 new recoveries from the disease were reported, taking the national counts to 4,296 and 257,429, respectively.
Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation, has so far reported the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the East Africa region.
Figures from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Ethiopia’s COVID-19 cases accounted for about 6 percent of Africa’s total.
Continental COVID situation is alarming. In Zambia, 3,594 new COVID-19 confirmed cases in the last 24 hours were registered, its health ministry said.
The new cases were picked from 12,880 tests done during the period, representing a 28 percent positivity rate. This brings the cumulative cases to 140,620. 61 new mortality cases were also reported.
Kenya’s health ministry announced that it has recorded 741 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s total tally to 181,239 cases.
24 people succumbed to the disease raising total fatalities from COVID-19 to at 3,538 in the country.
Moeti said that COVID-19 infections have been on an upward trajectory in Africa in the last five weeks since the onset of the third wave on May 3 adding that a 21 percent increase could delay flattening the curve.
She said the pandemic was on resurgence in 12 countries citing unrestricted social interactions and the presence of mutated versions for powering the virus’s spread.
According to Moeti, the delta variant that was initially reported in India has been detected in 14 African countries and in the last one month, it has been identified in the majority of samples sequenced in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
She said WHO has deployed experts to some of the countries experiencing unprecedented surges including Uganda and Zambia to boost mitigation measures including timely diagnosis and treatment.
WHO is also boosting innovative technological support to other laboratories in the region without sequencing capacities to better monitor the evolution of the corona virus.
In the next six months, WHO is aiming for an eight- to ten-fold increase in the samples sequenced each month in Southern African countries.
Moeti said boosting the capacity of the continent’s laboratories to monitor and sequence variants of concern has been prioritized in a bid to reduce the intensity of the third wave.
The COVID-19 upsurge comes as the vaccine supply crunch persists. Eighteen African countries have used over 80% of their COVAX vaccine supplies, with eight having exhausted their stocks.
Twenty-nine countries have administered over 50% of their supplies. Despite the progress, just over 1% of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated.
Globally, around 2.7 billion doses administered, of which just under 1.5% have been administered in the continent.
“With high vaccination rates it’s shaping up into a summer of freedom, family and fun for millions of people in richer countries. This is understandable and we all long for the same joys,” said Dr Moeti
In Africa, a WHO survey of 45 countries show that their borders are open for air travel and only Mauritius will require proof of vaccination for international travelers from 15 July 2021.
Most countries do not give quarantine exemptions for travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and require a negative COVID-19 test.