83 percent surge in Covid cases in Africa: Report
Johannesburg: Despite a 83 per cent surge in COVID-19 cases in Africa in the last one week, a top official of the World Health Organisation’s Regional Office for Africa said on Tuesday that she remains cautiously optimistic about the overall situation.
Evidence from South Africa is that while hospitalisations have increased by almost 70 per cent in the past seven days, intensive care bed occupancy rates remain low at 7.5 per cent. Just 14 per cent of hospitalised patients are reported to have needed supplemental oxygen and deaths have remained low, with only 11 reported yesterday for the previous 24 hours, WHO Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti said.
There has been an 83 per cent surge in cases on the continent this week, compared to the previous week. This is the fastest surge recorded since May last year. We are cautiously optimistic though, as we are seeing fewer deaths during the early weeks of this current wave as compared to the previous ones, Moeti said during a virtual media briefing.
Just over 300 deaths have been reported over the first three weeks of this wave and that is about half the number reported in the previous wave, she said.
Moeti said mild illnesses may be linked to the new Omicron variant.
However, with the number of cases hitting record highs as rates double every five days, we can’t afford to let our guard down. We are entering the year-end holiday season of traditional gatherings and travel, with vaccine coverage still disappointingly low in Africa.
Moeti expressed concern about the low vaccination rate in Africa, saying: If things continue this way, Africa may not reach the 70 per cent vaccination coverage target until August 2024.
Just six African countries have achieved their year-end vaccination target of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of their citizens, with only 20 managing to achieve a 10 per cent coverage.
Reemphasising that vaccination is the best defence against COVID-19 pandemic, Moeti said that Africa was receiving more doses of the vaccines and many more lives could be saved if the pace of vaccination process was accelerated.
In real terms, if the African countries get the doses and support necessary to vaccinate 70 per cent of their population, as is the case for many wealthy countries, we could avert tens of thousands of deaths from COVID-19 in 2022, she said as she also decried the travel ban imposed on a number of African countries.
Africa’s vaccine challenges are being compounded by Omicron-related travel bans. There is no strong scientific evidence to support the introduction of such restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, yet they have devastating economic repercussions on the affected countries, which are struggling to reboot after two years of pandemic-induced negative impacts.
Travel bans can lead to less money for food, medicine, education and a host of services that keep people healthy, consequently jeopardising the welfare of millions of Africans, according to Moeti.
It can also affect the supplies of critical items for health and other development areas, she said.
Moeti said the cases in the 11 African countries where Omicron has been identified account for about a third of the cases globally.
However, Africa’s share is steadily dropping, so I want to appeal to countries to urgently reconsider the recently-introduced travel bans. This is a time to show solidarity with neighbours and to act in the interest of the world, Moeti said.
She said the WHO strategy in 2022 would continue to focus on boosting vaccine coverage and increasing surveillance to detect new variants of concern.
Africa has recorded more than nine million Covid cases, with more than 2,25,000 lives lost to the pandemic.