Rife Covid-19 Variants Fuel Africa’s Surging Wave

ADDIS ABABA – The UN health agency on Thursday said new and faster spreading variants are fueling the continent’s surging third wave as Covid-19 case numbers in Africa climb faster than all earlier peaks.

Cases have increased in Africa for six weeks running and rose by 25% week-on-week to almost 202 000 in the week ending on June 27th, reaching nine tenths of the continent’s previous record of 224 000 new cases.

Deaths also rose by 15% across 38 African countries to nearly 3000 in the same period.

“Everyone must act now”

According to the WHO, the Delta variant is spreading to a growing number of countries with case numbers doubling in Africa every three weeks.

It has already been reported in 16 countries, including nine with surging cases.

The agency described the Delta as the most contagious variant yet and estimated 30%–60% more transmissible than other variants.

“The rampant spread of more contagious variants pushes the threat to Africa up to a whole new level.” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director for WHO Africa.

“More transmission means more serious illness and more deaths, so everyone must act now and boost prevention measures to stop an emergency becoming a tragedy,” she said.

With rising case numbers and hospitalizations across the continent, WHO estimates that oxygen demand in Africa is now 50% greater than for the first wave peak one year ago.

More variants spreading

In addition to Delta, the Alpha and Beta variants have been reported in 32 and 27 countries respectively.
The Alpha variant has been detected in most countries in north, west and central Africa.

The Beta variant is more widespread in southern Africa.

Both of these variants are more transmissible than the original virus, according to the WHO.

The Agency said understanding of the molecular evolution of the variants better will aid countries in making quick decisions around which vaccines to use.

Although eight vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective and have received WHO emergency use listing, shipments to Africa have dried up.

“While supply challenges grind on, dose sharing can help plug the gap,” Dr Moeti. “We are grateful for the pledges made by our international partners, but we need urgent action on allocations”.

Only 15 million people – just 1.2% of the African population – are fully vaccinated.

“Africa must not be left languishing in the throes of its worst wave yet,” the regional director of WHO said.