CAPE TOWN - With a 311% increase in new cases for the seven days leading to November 30, South Africa is driving the surge of Covid-19 infections in southern Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Cases in Gauteng have increased by 375% week on week, while hospital admissions rose 4.2% in the past seven days from the previous seven days. Covid-19-related deaths in the province jumped 28.6% from the previous seven days.
This has resulted in the WHO deploying a surge team to Gauteng to support surveillance, contact tracing, infection prevention and treatment measures.
So far, Botswana and South Africa have reported 19 and 172 Omicron variant cases, respectively. The two southern Africa countries account for 62% of cases reported globally.
In Africa, the Omicron variant has been detected in four countries, with Ghana and Nigeria becoming the first West African countries and the latest on the continent to report the new variant. Globally, more than 20 countries have detected the variant to date.
The variant has a high number of mutations (32) in its spike protein, and preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of re-infection, when compared with other variants of concern.
“Researchers and scientists in South Africa and the region are intensifying their investigations to understand the transmissibility, severity and impact of the Omicron variant in relation to the available vaccines, diagnostics and treatment and whether it is driving the latest surge in Covid-19 infections,” said the WHO.
While new Covid-19 cases are rising in southern Africa, they have dropped in all other sub-regions during the past week from the previous week.
“The detection and timely reporting of the new variant by Botswana and South Africa has bought the world time. We have a window of opportunity but must act quickly and ramp up detection and prevention measures. Countries must adjust their Covid-19 response and stop a surge in cases from sweeping across Africa and possibly overwhelming already stretched health facilities,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa.
Vaccination rates remain low in Africa, with only 102 million people, or 7.5% of the population, being fully vaccinated.
More than 80% of the population still need to receive a first dose.
Just three other African countries have enough vaccine supplies to meet the targets but, at the current pace of uptake, they will be unable to do so.
“The combination of low vaccination rates, the continued spread of the virus and mutations are a toxic mix. The Omicron variant is a wake-up call that the Covid-19 threat is real. With improved supplies of vaccines, African countries should widen vaccination coverage to provide greater protection to the population,” Moeti said.