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COVID-19 Cases Spike as Omicron Spreads in Africa

A woman opens her mouth for the heath worker to collect a sample for coronavirus testing during the screening and testing campaign aimed to combat the spread of COVID-19 at Lenasia South, south Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

The World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, said the Omicron variant was reaching more African nations, as weekly COVID-19 cases on the continent surged by 93 per cent. However, there are signs of hope, as preliminary data indicate that hospitalisations across South Africa remain low.

The WHO African Region, at a virtual press conference on vaccine rollout and impact of the new variant on the pandemic, facilitated by APO Group, said the continent recorded more than 107,000 infections in the week ended December 5, up from around 55,000. Five countries accounted for 86 per cent of the cases reported over the past week and all the sub-regions – up from one the previous week – reported increases in new cases. Southern Africa recorded the highest with a 140 per cent hike, mainly driven by an uptick in South Africa.

The panelists included Coordinator, Immunisation and Vaccine Development Programme, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Richard Mihigo and Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics and Director, African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University in Nigeria, Christian Happi.

Also present were Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, Regional Virologist, WHO Regional Office for Africa, and Dr. Thierno Balde, Regional COVID-19 Incident Manager, WHO Regional Office for Africa.

The panelists said research was being intensified to determine whether Omicron is behind the surge.

Emerging statistics from South Africa show that Omicron might cause less severe illness. The data, which reviewed hospitalisations across the country between November 14 and December 4, found that Intensive Care Unit (ICU) occupancy was only 6.3 per cent – which is very low compared with the same period when the country was facing the peak linked to the Delta variant in July.

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

To ramp up response and check the surge, WHO is supporting countries to improve genomic surveillance to track the virus and detect other potential variants of concern.

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