Friday, 14 January 2022

Geneva: The number of new COVID-19 cases in Africa is continuing to decline despite the Omicron variant overtaking Delta as the leading variant on the continent.

This is according to World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa Region Emergency Director, Dr Abdou Salam Gueye.

Cumulative COVID-19 cases across the continent have crossed the 10 million mark, with 230 000 people losing their lives due to complications related to the virus.

“Over the past week, cases plateaued as compared to the week before. Infections have also declined in three of Africa’s five sub-regions. Only North and West Africa are currently witnessing an increase in cases.

“Encouragingly, after a six week surge, Africa’s fourth pandemic wave that has been primarily driven by the Omicron variant has recorded its first drop in cases. If this trend continues, this marks the shortest life surge to date in the continent,” he said.

Gueye reported that the Omicron variant has been detected and reported in at least 30 African countries to date.

“In the hardest hit countries, Omicron has quickly become the dominant variant. It overtook the Delta variant within two weeks or less. Comparatively, it took around four weeks for Delta to surpass the previous dominant Beta variant,” he said.

Gueye warned that although the decline in new cases is a good sign, the WHO remains on alert.

“We are still very cautious because the latest data we collected was during the holiday period which is known to under report,” he said.

Gueye said data shows that deaths related to the virus rose by at least 64% but that these fatalities “remain below those in the previous waves” with hospitalisations also at a low as compared to previous waves of infection.

Vaccinations

Gueye emphasised that with only about 10% of Africans on the continent fully vaccinated, Africa needs to rapidly ramp up the number of jabs in arms.

“[Although] Africa seems to be emerging from its peak of the fourth pandemic wave, vaccinations – which are pivotal against this virus – remain far too low. Currently vaccination bottlenecks are less about supply than they are about rollout.

“At the current vaccination rate, Africa is running too far behind. The coming months will be critical in Africa’s effort to improve vaccinations. The continent cannot afford to remain on the fringes of this historic vaccination drive,” he said.

According to Gueye, the WHO is increasing support to countries in order to “fast track and effectively deliver” COVID-19 vaccine doses to its populations.

“Specifically, we are working with governments to resolve operational challenges that include refining and implementing vaccine rollout strategies, pledging funding shortfalls as well as boosting collaboration with communities for increased vaccination uptake.” he said.