As COVID-19 cumulative cases in Africa top 3 million and daily case numbers exceed the first wave peak, the continent is now confronted with emerging variants of the virus. This is according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.
In a statement the world body says, revamped public health measures are ever more critical to avert a runaway surge in infections that could stretch health facilities to the breaking point.
An average of 25 223 cases were reported each day between December 28, 2020 and January 10, 2021 in Africa, which is nearly 39% higher than the July 2020 two-week peak of 18 104 daily average cases.
Overall cases in the region have risen steadily since mid-September 2020, with a steeper rise from late November. In addition, a new variant of the virus called 501Y.V2 is circulating widely in South Africa, accounting for most of the new infections during the second wave.
Mutations of the virus are unsurprising as the more the pandemic spreads, the higher the likelihood of changes. However, preliminary analysis finds the 501Y.V2 variation to be more transmissible. Genomic sequencing has found the variant present in Botswana, the Gambia and Zambia.
Deeper investigations are underway to fully understand the epidemiological implications, but at present there are no indications the new variant increases the severity of the disease.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti says, “Even if the new variant is not more virulent, a virus that can spread more easily will put further strain on hospitals and health workers who are in many cases already overstretched. This is a stark reminder that the virus is relentless, that it still presents a manifest threat, and that our war is far from won.”
Below is the full statement: