CAPE TOWN - After a six-week surge, Africa’s fourth pandemic wave driven primarily by the Omicron variant is flattening, marking the shortest-lived surge to date in the continent where cumulative cases have now exceeded 10 million.
As of January 11, there have been 10.2 million Covid-19 cases in Africa.
Weekly cases plateaued in the seven days to January 9 from the week before, while Southern Africa, which saw a huge increase in infections during the pandemic wave, recorded a 14% decline in infections over the past week.
This was announced by World Health Organisation (WHO) experts during a virtual press briefing yesterday.
South Africa, where Omicron was first reported, saw a 9% fall in weekly infections. East and Central Africa regions also experienced a drop. However, North and West Africa are witnessing a rise in cases, with North Africa reporting a 121% increase this past week compared with the previous one.
Across the continent, however, deaths rose by 64% in the seven days ending on 9 January compared with the week before. This was mainly due to infections among people at high-risk. Deaths in the fourth wave are still lower than in the previous waves, the WHO said, and hospitalisations have remained low.
In countries experiencing a surge in cases, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has become the dominant type. While it took around four weeks for the Delta variant to surpass the previously dominant Beta, Omicron outpaced Delta within two weeks in the worst-hit African countries.
“Early indications suggest that Africa’s fourth wave has been steep and brief but no less destabilising. The crucial pandemic counter-measure badly needed in Africa still stands, and that is rapidly and significantly increasing Covid-19 vaccinations. The next wave might not be so forgiving,” said WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
So far, 30 African countries — and at least 142 globally — have detected the Omicron variant. The Delta variant has been reported in 42 countries in Africa. In West Africa where COVID-19 cases are on the rise, the number of Omicron sequences undertaken by countries, including Cabo Verde, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal, is growing. In Cabo Verde and Nigeria, Omicron is currently the dominant variant.
Vaccinations remain low with just around 10% of Africa’s population fully vaccinated. Vaccine supplies to the continent have improved recently, and WHO said it was stepping up its support to countries to effectively deliver the doses to the wider population.
“This year should mark a turning point in Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination drive. With vast swathes of the population still unvaccinated, our chances of limiting the emergence and impact of deadly variants are frighteningly slim,” said Moeti.
“We have the know-how and the tools and with a concerted push we can certainly tip the balance against the pandemic.”