South Africa ‘no longer leads the world in Omicron cases: WHO

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The World Health Organisation says that South Africa ‘no longer leads the world in Omicron cases’ with more than 50 other countries now having registered cases globally.

The agency says although there is an increase in cases generally because of the new variant in the continent, fewer deaths are being registered compared to previous surges.

The WHO reports that the continent recorded more than 196 000 new cases for the week ending on 12 December, but deaths have remained low.

“Evidence from South Africa is that while hospitalization has increased by almost 70% in the past 7 days, intensive care unit beds occupancy rate remains low,” says WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti.

The WHO says it remains “cautiously optimistic ” that deaths and severe illness will remain low – even though vaccinations in the continent remain very low too.

“As things stand, predictions are that if things continue like this Africa may not reach the 70% vaccination target until August 2024. Just 6 countries have hit their year-end target of fully vaccinating 40% of their citizens,” Dr Moeti adds explains.

Cases since the beginning of the Omicron variant are said to be doubling every five days.

The WHO says globally, there have been more than 2 700 Omicron cases reported in 59 countries, including 11 African countries that account for about a third of the total cases.

Kenya is now the latest to report a case of the variant. The country’s National carrier’s office in Uganda says the panic of the Omicron variant that has triggered travel bans against African countries by over 70 countries is already killing business.

Commercial Manager at Kenya Airways Uganda Kenneth Kenei says, “Since Omicron variant came in, we have witnessed slow demand, a decrease in walk-in clients. Even bookings on our website are going down. We are also seeing a lot of cancellations mainly to the Southern African region mainly affecting 10 or 12 countries within the Southern African region. We have also seen clients funding their tickets which they had booked especially for holidays in Southern Africa.”

Like other investors banking on tourism this festive season, it was looking to cash in from the holiday.

“It was a very good opportunity for us, the travel business was starting to sort of improve after what we have lost for the last two years. However, and unfortunately, because of this Omicron variant, we are seeing some hiccups here and there. I believe with the precautions that several governments are doing, especially, here in Uganda, we will be able to overcome it at the end of the day – of course with lower passenger forecast,” says Kenei.

Uganda, like the majority of other African countries, is emphasizing stronger public health measures, as opposed to travel bans.

WHO is asking African citizens to be cautious as they go into the festivities , and governments to encourage more to get jabs, in a timely manner , in order to avoid the wastage of doses as has been reported in some countries.