The number of coronavirus cases on the African continent has passed the 5 million mark as the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that the worst may be yet to come from the latest wave of COVID-19.
Africa as a whole initially fared better than other parts of the world like the United States and Europe. For much of 2020, the rates of infection in most African nations were comparatively low. While still far behind many countries in the West and in Asia, the numbers in Africa are on the rise.
Fortunately, the situation has not spun completely out of control. The latest wave has still not reached the peaks of the last one in some countries.
Travel is still possible to many African states without too many restrictions. For instance, passengers can still take a trip to Kenya if they have a negative PCR test result and get their Kenya visa online. The only exception is those who have recently been in India.
However, in other African countries, the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has already eclipsed the second, with higher weekly numbers than in January.
Some of these have already reintroduced anti-COVID measures such as bans on public gatherings and non-essential travel. Rwanda, Uganda, and Tunisia are among them.
The continent as a whole experienced its “worst pandemic week ever” in terms of new cases (over 251,000 according to the WHO) on the week ending July 4, 2021.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO said:
“This is driven by a mix of public fatigue, social mixing, ineffective use of public health and social measures, and vaccine inequity, and the spread of new variants.”
Among the places worst affected by the latest wave are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Rwanda, Tunisia, Zambia, and Uganda.
South Africa is also experiencing a rise in cases, particularly in Johannesburg and the surrounding Gauteng province.
Part of the problem comes from the new variants of the virus. These strains are becoming more and more prevalent in many parts of the world. Now, it appears that they have reached Africa.
The Delta variant, in particular, seems to be an issue. Highly transmissible and likely to affect younger people, this strain of COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc in India and the United Kingdom and continues to spread through Europe.
So far, it has been found in 17 African countries. 10 of these have recently reported a surge in infections, thought to be caused by the Delta variant.
According to the WHO, the strain may be 30%-60% easier to transmit than other variants of COVID-19.
The other side to the problem is Africa’s relatively slow vaccine rollout. This is due to a combination of factors.
Many African countries have a spread-out, rural population and underdeveloped healthcare systems, particularly outside of the main urban areas. This leaves the majority of people far away from where they can access the vaccines.
There is also an issue getting sufficient doses to many African countries in the first place. This is partly due to insufficient funds in the governments’ budgets.
Many countries were receiving their vaccines via the Covax program, which aims to provide 600 million doses to the continent as a whole. This would cover 20% of the population.
However, some countries quickly used up the initial supplies received through this scheme and have not received more. Unfortunately, many of the vaccines supplied by Covax came from the Serum Institute of India. Due to the latest wave in India itself, exports were halted to counter the rising number of cases there.
Meanwhile, as of June 2021, at least 3 states (Burundi, Eritrea, and Tanzania) had still not received any vaccines according to the Africa Center for Disease Control.
A great number of people are also hesitant to accept immunizations, which exacerbates the problem. By June, Burkina Faso had received 115,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine but had not administered any by that stage.
The most populous country on the continent, Nigeria, had only fully vaccinated 0.1% of its population by June 2021.
Overall, by July, only 1% of all Africans have been fully vaccinated.
The slow vaccination rates combined with the arrival of contagious and fast-spreading variants of COVID-19 make for a recipe for disaster.
The UN and Africa Center for Disease Control have implored other nations around the world to donate surplus vaccination supplies to the African countries that need them most.
As the rates of new cases and deaths due to COVID both continue to rise, it is likely that African nations can expect more restrictions to counter this latest wave. While there is an increase in vacation travel elsewhere in the world, many parts of Africa may soon be off-limits again.