83 percent surge in COVID-19 cases reported in Africa
The number of COVID-19 cases reported in Africa last week increased by 83 percent over the previous week, marking the fastest surge the continent has seen this year, though deaths remained relatively low.
Africa reported more than 196,000 new coronavirus cases during the week that ended on Dec. 12, compared to roughly 107,000 cases recorded the previous week, according to a statement from the World Health Organization (WHO) released Tuesday.
The number of new infections in Africa is doubling every five days, according to the WHO, which is the shortest time span observed this year.
Deaths, however, remain lower than in previous waves of the pandemic. The number of coronavirus-related fatalities fell by 19 percent last week compared to the week prior, according to the WHO.
The surge of cases in Africa comes nearly three weeks after the WHO labeled the omicron strain a “variant of concern.” The variant was discovered in South Africa and has a high number of mutations.
Health experts, however, are still gathering information to discern the variant’s severity, transmissibility and how well existing vaccines protect against the new strain.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said the agency is “cautiously optimistic that deaths and severe illness will remain low in the current wave” but warned that Africa’s slow vaccine rollout “means both will be much higher than they should be.”
“We’ve known for quite some time now that new variants like Beta, Delta or Omicron could regularly emerge to spark new outbreaks globally, but vaccine-deprived regions like Africa will be especially vulnerable,” he added in a statement.
The WHO also warned in its Tuesday statement that Africa may not reach its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of its population against COVID-19 until late 2024, which is two years after the initial target date. The agency predicted that 40 percent of the continent’s population will have received the jab by May.
Only two countries — Mauritius and Seychelles — have vaccinated 70 percent of their populations, according to the WHO. Twenty have inoculated 10 percent of their populations, which the WHO had hoped to achieve by September, and six countries have achieved the year-end goal of vaccinating 40 percent of their populations.
Moeti said that if Africa had the supplies to inoculate 70 percent of countries’ populations, the continent would be recording “tens of thousands of fewer” COVID-19 deaths next year.
“In a world where Africa had the doses and support to vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of 2021—a level many wealthy countries have achieved—we probably would be seeing tens of thousands of fewer deaths from COVID-19 next year,” Moeti said.
“But we can still save many lives if we can accelerate the pace of vaccination in early 2022,” he added.