Spike in COVID-19 cases across Africa
COVID-19 cases have increased sharply across Africa over the last few days with the Omicron variant circulating and people traveling and gathering for year-end festivals.
As of December 30, 2021, confirmed cases of Covid-19 from 55 African countries reached 9,599,876 while only 188,696,109 vaccinations have been administered across the continent.
Reported deaths in Africa reached 227,914 while 8,554,189 people have recovered with South Africa reporting most cases. According to reports so far 3,433,554 have been infected while another 90,935 people have died of the virus. Other most-affected countries are Morocco Tunisia, Ethiopia, Libya, Egypt and Kenya.
With the Omicron variant circulating during this holiday season, post-Christmas COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Africa, as countries are counting on vaccination and tighter measures to keep the pandemic under control.
In South Africa, one of the first in the world to fall victim to Omicron, 9,020 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in the past day, bringing the accumulated confirmed cases to 3,433,554, said the National Institute for Communicable Diseases on Wednesday.
In Kenya, the positivity rate has been over the threshold of 30 percent for the last consecutive days. The East African nation is one of the busiest transport hubs in Africa and has so far reported 288,951 confirmed cases.
Zambia on Wednesday also reported 5,255 new cases in the past 24 hours, the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases since the advent of the pandemic, its health ministry said.
Zambian health minister Sylvia Masebo said Tuesday the government was concerned with the high number of positive cases and attributed the surge to workplaces and large gatherings during the year-end holiday season.
Zimbabwe on Tuesday recorded 24 COVID-19 deaths, a new record high since the onset of the Omicron variant in the country early this month, as COVID-19 deaths have been steadily rising over the past two weeks, jumping from single-digit figures in the first two weeks of the month to double-digit figures now.
Angola has also hit a record number of daily new cases over the past month, after confirming Tuesday 5,035 news cases, pushing the country to reimpose tighter restrictions, including reduction of the workforce in public and private services from 75 percent to 30 percent.
As the presentation of the vaccination certificate or negative COVID-19 test becomes mandatory in countries like Kenya, Congo-Brazzaville, and Gabon for access to public services and places, countries across the continent are counting on tighter measures to curb the surge.
The Cape Verde government has decided to ban all gatherings for New Year celebration while reintroducing since Tuesday the state of emergency due to cases surge. Malawi, out of fear of importing cases, has ordered that arriving passengers without proof of vaccination be either vaccinated onsite or undergo a 10-day quarantine at their expense.
In prelude to the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), which will be hosted in Cameroon in January after a year-long postponement, local authorities have already made vaccination and COVID-19 test mandatory to access football stadiums during the highly anticipated sports event.
Low vaccination rate
Facing the recent COVID-19 flare-up, African countries have stepped up efforts in getting their people vaccinated and introducing booster doses.
Togo has started on Monday, right after the Christmas weekend, the administration of the booster dose, targeting persons of 18 years old and above.
Botswana has also announced Wednesday to begin vaccinating people aged 12 to 17, and booster doses. To date, nearly 1.2 million of Botswana's 1.6 million adults have received the first dose of the vaccine, with over one million fully vaccinated.
"The COVID-19 vaccination will move to Phase Four, which will cover those aged 12 to 17," said Shirley Mukamambo, the ministry's Acting Permanent Secretary, adding that details on booster dose schedule will be provided in due course.
However, vaccination coverage remains highly variable across the region. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which has seen an "explosive situation", according to its health authorities, only 0.18 percent of its population have been vaccinated.
Low vaccination rates are of mounting concern, as only 20 African countries had vaccinated at least 10 percent of their populations as of mid-December, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
"Just six countries have hit the year-end target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of their citizens, with only 20 countries managing to achieve 10 percent coverage," deplored in early December the WHO's Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti, noting that Africa might not reach the 70 percent vaccination coverage target until August 2024.
The head WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday renewed longstanding warnings that “ending health inequity remains the key to ending the pandemic.” He said that missing the target of getting 40 per cent of populations vaccinated this year “is not only a moral shame – it cost lives and provided the virus with opportunities to circulate unchecked and mutate.”
Countries largely missed the target because of limited supply to low-income nations for most of the year and then vaccines arriving close to their expiry date, without things such as syringes, he said.
All the same, “I still remain optimistic that this can be the year we can not only end the acute stage of the pandemic, but we also chart a path to stronger health security,” Tedros said.