By Sola Ogundipe
The World Health Organisation, WHO, has said that the Omicron-fueled COVID-19 pandemic fourth wave in Africa has flattened after a six-week surge, marking the shortest-lived surge to date in the continent where cumulative cases have now exceeded 10 million.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who stated this on Thursday during a virtual press conference, said that even though the continent appears to be weathering the latest pandemic wave, vaccination rates remain the low as just around 10 percent of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated.
“Early indications suggest that Africa’s fourth wave has been steep and brief but no less destabilizing. 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.
“This year should mark a turning point in Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination drive. With vast swaths of the population still unvaccinated, our chances of limiting the emergence and impact of deadly variants are frighteningly slim.
“We have the know-how and the tools and with a concerted push we can certainly tip the balance against the pandemic,”Moeti argued
In countries experiencing a surge in cases, WHO observed that the fast-spreading Omicron variant has become the dominant type.
The global health body said 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.
“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.”
According to Moeti, as of 11 January, there have been 10.2 million COVID-19 cases in Africa. Weekly cases plateaued in the seven days to 9 January from the week before. Southern Africa, which saw a huge increase in infections during the pandemic wave, recorded a 14 percent decline in infections over the past week. South Africa, where Omicron was first reported, saw a 9 percent 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 percent increase this past week compared with the previous one.
“Across the continent, though, deaths rose by 64 percent 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. Hospitalizations have remained low.
“In South Africa, for instance, around 9 percent of its over 5,600 intensive care unit beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients.
“Testing, which is crucial to COVID-19 detection and surveillance—including genomic, rose modestly by 1.6 percent over the past week with over 90 million—mostly polymerase chain reaction (PCR)—tests carried out across the continent. Twenty-three countries recorded a high positivity rate of over 10 percent over the past week.”
She noted that 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.