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Africa told to be on guard as Indian virus variant reaches Uganda

Uganda has confirmed the arrival of the Indian coronavirus variant on its shores while South Africa and Angola are ramping up protective measures including restrictions on movement as the African Centres for Disease Control and prevention warns that a deadlier new wave of the pandemic could yet sweep across Africa.

According to John Nkengasong, the director of the Centre, “the situation in India shows we as a continent can’t put our guard down.”

He told an online webinar on Thursday “if what is going on in India unfolds in Africa it will overwhelm our health systems with even worse consequences.”

His warning comes as Indian authorities and hospitals struggle to cope with unprecedented levels of Covid infections and deaths which have prompted the South African government to consider introducing additional measures in order to stave off a third wave.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told an online conference that a close eye was being kept on India.

He noted that “the challenges we have seen in India are very serious,” Mkhize said. “We have received an advisory from the ministerial advisory council that we have to consider some restrictions and we are now going through that,” he said, without giving details.

In Angola, the government has reimposed movement restrictions and increased fines for people flouting measures to limit a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Government offices will operate with only 50% of staff, while the private sector will be allowed 75%, Minister of State Adao de Almeida told reporters in the capital, Luanda, on Wednesday. Home gatherings will be restricted to 15 people and a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew introduced, he said.

The country is recording an 8.7% positivity rate, compared with 5% during a peak period in October, according to Health Minister Silvia Lutucuta. It reported 226 new infections and four deaths on Wednesday, taking cumulative cases to 26,178 and 591 deaths.

Angola is seeing more cases of the variants first identified in South Africa and England, with the English version being more deadly and more infectious, she said. Unlike in the first wave when most cases were asymptomatic and deaths were mainly among elderly male patients with co-morbidities, the second spike seems to affect people uniformly despite their gender or age, Lutucuta said.

In the meantime, Uganda has detected the Covid-19 variant first traced in India, according to the health ministry, and advised its residents to step up precautions to reduce the risk of contraction.

“This should be a wake up call for all of us,” the health ministry said in a statement on Twitter Thursday. “If eligible, get vaccinated now.”

Uganda has confirmed 41,797 coronavirus cases with 342 deaths since it reported the first infection last year, according to the health ministry data as of Tuesday. The government’s announcement of the new variant comes a day after its East African neighbor Kenya suspended flights to and from India for two weeks.

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