After a six-week surge, Africa’s fourth pandemic wave, which has been mainly driven by the Omicron variant, is flattening, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday ( January 13).
WHO said that this marked the shortest surge since the pandemic began on the continent, where total cases have exceeded 10.2 million.
Recorded cases of infection show that the weekly number plateaued in the seven days leading up to 9 January, from the previous week.
“Early indications suggest that Africa’s fourth wave has been steep and brief but no less destabilizing”, said WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti.
Omicron on record
In countries experiencing a surge in cases, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has become the dominant type.
While it took around four weeks for the Delta variant to surpass the previously dominant Beta, Omicron outpaced Delta within two weeks in the worst-hit African countries, according to WHO.
Southern Africa saw a huge increase in infections during the pandemic wave but recorded a 14% decline in confirmed cases over the past week.
And South Africa, where Omicron was first reported, saw a nine percent fall in weekly infections.
While East and Central Africa regions also experienced falling numbers of cases, North and West Africa are seeing a rise in infections, with North Africa reporting a 121% increase over the past week, compared with the previous seven days.
“The crucial pandemic countermeasure badly needed in Africa still stands, and that is rapidly and significantly increasing COVID-19 vaccinations”, said the senior WHO official, adding, “The next wave might not be so forgiving.”
“Concerted push needed”
Through training in bioinformatics, specimen handling, and other key areas, WHO is supporting countries across the continent in bolstering genomic sequencing to identify new mutations.
WHO is also helping to procure and deliver critical laboratory equipment and supplies.
So far, 30 African countries – and at least 142 worldwide – have detected the Omicron variant while the Delta variant has been reported in 42 African nations.
In West Africa, where COVID-19 cases are on the rise, the number of Omicron sequences undertaken by countries including Cabo Verde, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal, is growing.
And Omicron is currently the dominant variant in both Cabo Verde and Nigeria.
“We have the know-how and the tools and with a concerted push we can certainly tip the balance against the pandemic”, said Dr. Moeti.
Stem variants, inoculate
While the continent appears to be weathering the latest pandemic wave, only around 10% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
However, vaccine supplies to Africa have improved recently, and WHO is stepping up its support to countries to deliver doses to the wider population.
“This year should mark a turning point in Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination drive,” said Dr. Moeti.
“With vast swaths of the population still unvaccinated, our chances of limiting the emergence and impact of deadly variants are frighteningly slim”, she added.