COVID-19: Six weeks after surge, Omicron flattening in Africa –WHO

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 11 January, 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. 

WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville in a statement said Southern Africa, which saw a huge increase in infections during the pandemic wave, recorded a 14 per cent decline in infections over the past week. 

South Africa, where Omicron was first reported, saw a nine per cent 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 per cent increase this past week compared with the previous one, WHO said.

“Across the continent, though, deaths rose by 64 per cent in the seven days ending on 9 January compared with the week before mainly due to infections among people at high risk. 

“Nonetheless, deaths in the fourth wave are lower than in the previous waves. Hospitalisations have remained low. In South Africa, for instance, around 9 per cent of its over 5600 intensive care unit beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients.

“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,” it said.

The World Health Organisation Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said early indications suggest that Africa’s fourth wave has been steep and brief but no less destabilising. 

“The crucial pandemic countermeasure badly needed in Africa still stands, and that is rapidly and significantly increasing COVID-19 vaccinations. The next wave might not be so forgiving,” she said.

The UN agency noted that testing, which is crucial to COVID-19 detection and surveillance—including genomic, rose modestly by 1.6 per cent over the past week with over 90 million—mostly polymerase chain reaction —tests carried out across the continent. Twenty-three countries recorded a high positivity rate of over 10 percent over the past week. 

“Across Africa, WHO is supporting countries to bolster genomic sequencing through training in key areas such as bioinformatics and specimen handling. The organisation is also helping procure and deliver critical laboratory equipment and supplies to countries.

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