South Africa is facing a rise in COVID-19 cases for the third week in a row as the region’s winter season approaches. The growth was interrupted by a two-month decline in the total number of infections recorded across the continent.
During the week ended May 8, 2022, 46,271 cases were recorded in the subregion, which is 32% more than the week before. The increase is largely due to the surge in South Africa, where weekly reported cases have quadrupled in the last three weeks. Death, however, is not growing so fast. South Africa has recorded 376 deaths in the last three weeks, twice as many as in the previous three weeks.
Although the incidence has increased, hospitalizations in South Africa remain low: the number of patients now admitted with a positive COVID-19 test is about 20% of the peak in late December 2021. In the provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, where the last wave was first detected, hospitalizations and hospital deaths have increased by 90-100% in the last two weeks compared to the previous two weeks.
The current surge is fueled by the Omicron option amid weakened health and social measures. Since the beginning of April, 1,369 cases of BA.2 Omicron sub-variant, 703 cases of BA.4 sub-variant and 222 cases of BA.5 sub-variant have been recorded in South Africa alone. However, BA.4 and BA.5 remain the most alarming because the two subvariants contain the largest number of mutations, and it is still unclear how they affect immunity.
In addition to South Africa, Eswatini and Namibia also recorded an increase in cases, with both reporting 50% more new cases in the last two weeks compared to the previous two weeks.
The last four waves of the pandemic in Africa occurred around the middle and end of the year and are largely driven by new variants of COVID-19, winter seasons and large population movements during these holiday periods. In 2021, the average delta-based surge began in May and late November with the advent of the Omicron.
“This increase in cases is an early signal that we are watching closely. Now is the time for countries to strengthen preparedness and ensure that they can organize effective responses in the event of a new pandemic wave, “said Dr Abdu Salam Gue, Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the WHO Regional Office. for Africa.
Over the past two years, African countries have significantly improved their response to COVID-19 by strengthening key aspects such as surveillance, testing and treatment. It is important that these measures be maintained and expanded rapidly as COVID-19 cases increase further in many countries.
The continent has also increased genomic sequencing. Between January and April 2021, African laboratories reported 9,000 sequences. This has quadrupled to almost 40,000 compared to the same period this year.
However, with the decline in cases earlier this year, countries have lifted public health measures, including surveillance. Testing has also decreased. Between March and May 2022, only 30% of countries reporting testing met the WHO benchmark of 10 tests per 10,000 people per week. This is less than 40% between the waves caused by Delta and Omicron in 2021.
“With the experience of the last two years, we must do everything we can to curb the adverse effects of the new pandemic wave by stepping up vaccination and measures to detect and prevent the spread of the virus and treat patients,” said Dr. Guy. “To defeat this pandemic, we must remain vigilant. The harsh reality is that complacency comes at a high price. ”
So far, 11.7 million cases and about 253,000 deaths have been reported in Africa. During the week ended May 8, 52,878 cases were recorded on the continent, which is 38% more than the week before.
The WHO held a virtual press conference today led by Dr. Gueye and with the assistance of the APO Group. He was joined by Professor Placido Mbala, Head of the Department of Epidemiology and Head of the Laboratory of Genomic Pathogens of the National Institute of Biological Research, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Dr. Kerrigan McCarthy, Specialist in Pathology, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, South Africa.
Also from the WHO Regional Office for Africa to answer questions were Dr. Tierna Balde, Regional Incident Manager with COVID-19, Dr. Niksi Gumede-Moeleti, Regional Virologist, Dr. Mori Keita, Head of Response Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zora Machekanyang, Communications Officer, Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, WHO International Support Group for East and South Africa.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
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