Senegal, which until this month had recorded fewer than 44,000 cases and 1,166 deaths, has registered more than 15,000 cases and 139 deaths since the start of July, according to health ministry figures.

After comfortably weathering the first two waves of the virus, health services were now stretched dangerously thin, said Dr. Khardiata Diallo, head of infectious disease at Fann hospital in Dakar.

“Patients, particularly young ones, are arriving in respiratory distress,” Diallo said, her voice cracking with exhaustion. “We’ve never had this number of cases, deaths and severe cases. Frankly, this third wave threatens to drown us.”

Many infections outside clinics were going undiagnosed, while post mortems were not routine, she said. “The situation is much more serious. What we see here is only the tip of the iceberg.”

In Dakar, the current epicentre of the epidemic in Senegal, every bed with supplemental oxygen for patients in severe respiratory distress was taken, she said.