Africa recorded more than 165, 000 cases in the week ending on September 5 which is 23 per cent lower than the week before, yet still higher than the weekly cases recorded at the peak of the first wave.
Weekly COVID-19 cases in Africa fell by more than 20 per cent, the sharpest seven-day decline in two months, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Thursday during the weekly press conference.
The organization noted although, that the rate of deceleration is slower than the previous waves owing to the impact of more transmissible variants. In terms of actual numbers, the continent recorded more than 165, 000 cases in the week ending on September 5 which is 23 per cent lower than the week before, yet still higher than the weekly cases recorded at the peak of the first wave.
The more contagious Delta variant that partly fuelled the third wave has been dominant in several countries that experienced the COVID-19 surge. In southern Africa, for instance, where more than 4,000 COVID-19 genome sequencing data was produced in August, the Delta variant was detected in over 70 per cent of samples from Botswana, Malawi and South Africa, and in over 90 per cent from Zimbabwe.
“While COVID-19 cases have declined appreciably, the downward trend is frustratingly slow due to the lingering effects of the more infectious Delta variant,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa at the press conference.
“We are spearheading critical work and supporting countries in scaling up pathogen surveillance through genome sequencing to detect and respond effectively to COVID-19 variants.”
The continent lags far behind the rest of the world when it comes to sequencing, with only 1 per cent of over 3 million COVID-19 sequences conducted worldwide occurring in Africa and yet establishing what variants are circulating helps in determining transmission rates and how to intervene.
“The third wave has shown us how variants can hijack the efforts to tame the pandemic. Countries must step up surveillance because without genomic information, variants can spread undetected. You can’t fix what you don’t measure", Moeti said.
To date, the dominant Delta variant has been detected in 31 African countries, while the Alpha and Beta variants have respectively been identified in 44 and 39 countries.
The C.1.2 variant initially identified in South Africa has so far been detected in 130 cases in 10 countries globally, including five in Africa. Although the variant has exhibited concerning mutations, there is no evidence that it is more transmissible or may affect vaccine efficacy, but more research is needed, WHO says.
Giving an update of vaccines supply to Africa, Moeti said around 5.5 million doses were received through the COVAX facility in the first week of September. However, only around 3 per cent of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated.