The World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, says COVID-19 cases and deaths are surging in Africa as new, more contagious variants of the virus spread.
The UN health agency disclosed this in a statement posted on its website.
It stated that over 175,000 new COVID-19 cases and more than 6,200 deaths were reported in Africa in the last week, while infections rose by 50 per cent on the continent.
It added that “infections rose by 50 per cent between Dec. 29, 2020 and Jan. 25, 2021, compared with the previous four weeks.
“In the past week, there had been a small dip in cases in South Africa, but 22 countries continued to see their case numbers surge.
“Deaths rose two-fold in the same four-week period, with over 15,000 concentrated in 10 mainly southern and northern African nations.
“The 501Y.V2 variant, first identified in South Africa, is predominant and powering record case numbers in South Africa and the sub-region.
“It has been found in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, the French Indian Ocean region of Mayotte, Zambia and in 24 non-African nations.’’
The statement quoted Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, as saying “the variant which was first detected in South Africa spread quickly beyond Africa.
“It has spread quickly beyond Africa and so what’s keeping me awake at night right now is that it’s very likely circulating in a number of African countries.’’
WHO also noted that the variant that was initially detected in the United Kingdom was also found in The Gambia and Nigeria, adding that further research was needed to determine whether the new strain could cause more severe illness.
“WHO is working to track and tackle new variants by helping countries to build and boost the complex genomic surveillance capacities needed to respond to the new variants.
“WHO is helping to build capacities needed to detect and respond to new variants, shipping samples to sequencing laboratories and providing supplies and technical guidance.’’
With the Africa Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, it stated, WHO helped to set up a COVID-19 genomic sequencing laboratory network in eight countries.
The countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda.
WHO, therefore, called on all countries to ship at least 20 samples to sequencing laboratories every month to help map the fast-evolving situation and best target responses at all levels.
The statement further quoted Moeti as saying “in addition to the new variants, COVID-19 fatigue and the aftermath of year-end gatherings risk powering a perfect storm and driving up Africa’s second wave and overwhelming health facilities.
“Africa is at a crossroads. We must stick to our guns and double down on the tactics we know work so well. That is mask wearing, handwashing and safe social distancing. Countless lives depend on it.
“Facing a second wave of infections, African nations must ramp up testing, the isolation of contacts and the treatment of patients, as well as enhancing proven prevention measures.
“Our shared goal is to get ahead of the virus. Unfortunately, the journey will be longer, harder and far more costly in the absence of consistent, all-of-society commitments to blocking infection.”