The new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported in Botswana, the Gambia and Zambia as daily case numbers of the disease in Africa exceed those recorded in the first wave peak on the continent, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti 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.
“We must not become complacent. We must persist with the proven public health measures that helped stop the spread of the virus during the first wave – that’s physical distancing, constant hand-washing and wearing masks in public spaces,” she says.
Dr Moeti says the current situation is a stark reminder that the virus is relentless, still presents a manifest threat and that the war is far from being won.
“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,” she said in a statement released today.
Latest data from the WHO shows that cases of COVID-19 in Africa now top 3 million.
An average of 25 223 cases of COVID-19 were reported each day between 28 December 2020 and 10 January 2021 in Africa, which is nearly 39% higher than the July 2020 two-week peak of 18 104 daily average cases.
The African continent is now confronted with emerging variants of the virus, with preliminary genetic analysis showing the 501Y.V2 variation of the virus is more transmissible.
The new variant of the virus is circulating widely in South Africa, accounting for most of the new infections during the second wave.
The WHO warns that numbers may rise further in the coming days in the wake of travelling, gathering and festivities over Christmas and New Year holidays.
Nigeria is also carrying out more investigations on a variant identified in samples collected in August and October.
“We call on all countries to increase testing and sequencing of the virus to swiftly spot, track and tackle new COVID-19 variants as soon as they appear,’’ said the Africa WHO director.