Brazzaville, Congo | Xinhua | Africa is being hit by the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic driven by the Omicron variant, after recording the fastest weekly surge in new cases since May 2020, said an official of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday.
“Africa is now officially in the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is partly due to the Omicron variant,” said WHO’s Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti at the end-of-year press conference in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, where the WHO Regional Office for Africa is based.
Africa has seen a rise of 83 percent in new COVID-19 cases for the week ending Dec. 12, driven by the Delta and the Omicron variants, which is the fastest surge recorded since May 2020, she said.
More than 2,700 Omicron cases have been reported in 59 countries, including 11 African countries that account for about 33 percent of the total cases. According to the WHO, Africa’s share is steadily dropping, while South Africa no longer leads the world in Omicron cases.
Moeti warned that Africa’s vaccine challenges are being compounded by the travel bans on southern African nations over detection of the Omicron variant, as the vaccine coverage in Africa remains disappointingly low.
“Just six countries have hit the year-end target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of their citizens, with only 20 countries managing to achieve 10 percent coverage,” said Moeti, stressing that Africa might not reach the 70 percent vaccination coverage target until August 2024.
“Blanket travel bans have little impact on the course of an epidemic but have a massive socioeconomic effect,” said Moeti, calling on countries to “urgently reconsider” their travel bans on African countries. “Coming after two years of COVID-19, these new travel restrictions are jeopardizing the health of millions of Africans.”
Moeti added that WHO’s COVID-19 strategy for the coming year would be to continue to focus on boosting vaccine coverage and surveillance to up case detection and to track new variants of concern.