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WHO Reports 54% Surge in COVID-19 Cases in Africa

The two southern Africa countries account for 62% of cases reported globally, said Dr. Abdou Salam Gueye, Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response at WHO Africa Regional Office at the weekly press conference. He said Omicron has a high number of mutations in its spike protein at 32, and preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection, when compared with other variants of concern.

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New COVID-19 cases in Africa have risen by 54%, the World Health Organisation -WHO said on Thursday in its weekly pandemic update, attributing the rise to the general upsurge in Southern Africa where the new Omicron variant was first detected.

In Africa, the Omicron variant has now 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. So far, Botswana and South Africa have reported 19 and 172 Omicron variant cases, respectively. Globally, more than 20 countries have detected the variant to date.

The two southern African countries account for 62% of cases reported globally, said Dr.  Abdou Salam Gueye, Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response at WHO Africa Regional Office at the weekly press conference.

He said Omicron has a high number of mutations in its spike protein at 32, and preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of re-infection when compared with other variants of concern. 

Southern Africa has recorded a surge in cases, mostly driven by South Africa. For the seven days leading to 30 November, South Africa reported a 311% increase in new cases, compared with the previous seven days.

While new COVID-19 cases are rising in southern Africa, they dropped in all other sub-regions during the past week from the previous week.

To be able to speedily detect the new variant, the organization urges countries to ensure that they sequence between 75 and 150 samples weekly. 

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In her remarks, Dr.  Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said  that  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," she said. "Countries must adjust their COVID-19 response and stop a surge in cases from sweeping across Africa and possibly overwhelming already-stretched health facilities,” she said, encouraging countries to continue with their vaccination drives.

However, vaccination rates on the continent remain low with only 7.5% of the population fully vaccinated. WHO estimates show that more than 80% of the population has not yet even accessed their first dose.

By Thursday, only five African nations had reached the WHO global target for countries to fully vaccinate 40% of their population by the end of 2021.

“The combination of low vaccination rates, the continued spread of the virus, and mutations are a toxic mix," Dr Moeti said. "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.” 

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