• Monday, July 15, 2024
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COVID cases up by 93% in Africa, but hospitalisations low – WHO

COVID cases up by 93% in Africa, but hospitalisations low – WHO

COVID-19 cases in Africa surged by 93 percent in the last one week but hospitalisation has remained low, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday.

This is as the new Omicron variant has now been detected in at least 10 African countries and in around 60 worldwide. Africa recorded more than 107,000 cases in the week ending on December 5, up from around 55,000. The continent now accounts for 46 percent of about 1,000 Omicron COVID-19 cases detected globally.

Five countries in Africa accounted for 86 percent of the cases reported over the past week and all the sub-regions in the continent – up from one the previous week – reported increases in new cases. Southern Africa recorded the highest increase with a 140 percent hike mainly driven by an uptick in South Africa.

Richard Mihigo, immunisation and vaccine development programme director for WHO Africa, speaking during an online news briefing said emerging data showed that the Omicron variant may cause less severe forms of COVID-19.

“The data which looked at hospitalisation across the country between November 14 and December 4, found that Intensive Care Unit (ICU) occupancy was only 6.3 percent, which was very low compared to the same period when South Africa was facing the peak which was linked to the Delta variant and I’m talking about July this year,” he said.

“However, there are signs of hope as preliminary data indicates that hospitalisations across South Africa remain low,” while noting that “research is being intensified.”

Read also: Omicron Covid-19 variant found in Europe before discovery in South-Africa

Data from the same two-week period from one of the health districts most impacted by Omicron found that out of more than 1200 admissions, 98 were receiving supplemental oxygen and only four were on ventilation. This is very preliminary data with a small sample size and most of the people admitted to the health facilities were under the age of 40. As the clinical profile of patients changes, the impact of Omicron may change.

Despite the widespread global presence of Omicron, more than 70 countries have imposed travel bans that are mainly targeting southern African countries – some of which have yet to report any Omicron case.

“With Omicron now present in nearly 60 countries globally, travel bans that mainly target African countries are hard to justify,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.

Africa has so far received more than 372 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and administered 248 million. That represents only 3 percent of the 8.2 billion doses given globally. Although the pace of vaccination has increased in recent months, only 7.8 percent of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.

“What we do know is that uneven distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally is creating an ideal environment for COVID-19 variants to emerge and spread explosively and regions with the least access to vaccines seem likely to suffer the most,” said Moeti. “With the end-of-year travel and festivities upon us, limited vaccination, rising COVID-19 cases, and the new variant paint an ominous picture for our region.”

Data from WHO shows that many African countries are yet to administer most of their vaccine supplies. Only 10 countries, down from 12 the previous week, have less than 10 doses available per 100 people.

“Only six of Africa’s 54 countries have reached the global target of vaccinating 40 percent of their population by the end of this year, leaving millions of people in our region without protection against COVID-19. This is simply dangerous and untenable,” said Richard Mihigo, immunisation and vaccines development programme coordinator for the WHO regional office for Africa.