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COVID-19 cases, deaths surging in Africa, near first wave peak – WHO

...calls for urgent action as only 1% of population vaccinated

COVID-19 cases in Africa are surging by over 20 percent week-on-week as the continent’s third wave gains pace and nears the first wave peak of more than 120,000 weekly cases recorded in July 2020, new data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show.

COVID-19 cases rose to over 116,500 in the week ending on 13 June, up from the previous week’s nearly 91,000 cases, following one month of progressively rising case numbers that pushed the continent over the 5 million case mark.

In 22 African countries, nearly 40 percent of Africa’s 54 nations, cases rose by over 20 percent in the week ending on 13 June. During the same week, deaths rose by nearly 15 percent to over 2,200 in 36 countries.

New cases recorded weekly in Africa have now exceeded half of the second wave peak of more than 224,000 weekly cases in early January 2021. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia and Uganda have reported their highest number of new weekly cases since the pandemic began.

“Africa is in the midst of a full blown third wave. The sobering trajectory of surging cases should rouse everyone into urgent action. We’ve seen in India and elsewhere just how quickly COVID-19 can rebound and overwhelm health systems. So public health measures must be scaled up fast to find, test, isolate and care for patients and to quickly trace their contacts,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Along with other factors, a lack of adherence to transmission prevention measures has fuelled the new surge that coincides with colder seasonal weather in southern Africa and as more contagious variants spread, she said.

The Delta variant has been reported in 14 African countries and the Alpha and Beta variants have been found in over 25 African countries.

Africa’s rollout is picking-up speed with over 5 million doses administered in the past five days, compared with around 3.5 million doses per week for the past three weeks. Almost 12 million people are now fully vaccinated, but this is still less than 1 percent of Africa’s population.

Twenty-three African countries have used less than half of the doses they have received so far, including four of the countries experiencing a resurgence. About 1.25 million AstraZeneca doses in 18 countries must be used by the end of August to avoid expiration.

Seven African countries have already used 100 percent of the vaccines they received through COVAX and seven more have administered over 80 percent.

“The rise in cases and deaths is an urgent wake up call for those countries lagging behind to rapidly expand vaccination sites, to reach priority groups for vaccination and to respond to community concerns.

“A number of African countries have shown that they can move vaccines quickly, so while we welcome the recent international vaccine pledges, if we are to curb the third wave Africa needs doses here and now,” said Moeti.

Nearly 85 percent of all vaccine doses globally have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries – an average of 68 doses per 100 people in high-income countries compared with nearly 2 doses per 100 people in Africa.

The number of doses administered globally so far would have been enough to cover all health workers and older people, if they had been distributed equitably.

WHO said it is expanding access to easy-to-use antigen-detection rapid diagnostic tests in communities that would otherwise not have ready access to the standard polymerase chain reaction testing for COVID-19.

Through a WHO-led regional COVID-19 laboratory referral network, WHO is working with countries to ship samples for sequencing to better understand where and to what degree variants are circulating.

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