By Asmau Ahmad
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said after a six-week surge, Africa’s fourth pandemic wave driven primarily by the Omicron variant is flattening.
This makes the fourth wave the shortest-lived surge to date in the continent where cumulative cases have now exceeded 10 million, WHO said.
As of 11 January, there have been 10.2 million COVID-19 cases in Africa. Weekly cases plateaued in the seven days to January 9 from the week before.
WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville in a statement said Southern Africa, which saw a huge increase in infections during the pandemic wave, recorded a 14 per cent decline in infections over the past week.
South Africa, where Omicron was first reported, saw a nine per cent 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 per cent 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. Hospitalisations have remained low. In South Africa, for instance, around 9per cent of its over 5600 intensive care unit beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients.
“In countries experiencing a surge in cases, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has become the dominant type. 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,” it said.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said early indications suggest that Africa’s fourth wave has been steep and brief but no less destabilising.
“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,” she said.
The UN agency noted that 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, tests carried out across the continent.
It was said that 23 countries recorded a high positivity rate of over 10 percent over the past week.
Dr Moeti noted that 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,” said Dr. Moeti. “We have the know-how and the tools and with a concerted push we can certainly tip the balance against the pandemic.”