Africa is “in the midst of a full-blown third wave” of coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.
Cases have risen across the continent by more than 20 per cent in the last week, and deaths have also risen by 15 per cent, WHO Africa chief Dr Matshidisho Moeti told a briefing.
“Africa is in the midst of a full-blown third wave,” she said. “The sobering trajectory of surging cases should draw everyone to urgent action.
“We’ve seen, in India and elsewhere, how quickly Covid-19 can rebound and overwhelm health systems. Public health measures must be scaled up fast.”
In total, the continent has seen five million Covid cases since the pandemic began, and 156,000 deaths. It is thought that the numbers among the 1.3 billion-strong population might actually be much higher due to under-reporting.
For context, Europe – with 748 million people – has seen almost 33 million cases, and 730,000 deaths.
In the main, European countries were hit harder in the first and second waves of Covid than most African nations, but now, while vaccination campaigns in Europe are surging ahead – as in many richer parts of the world – most of Africa remains barely protected.
In fact, less than one per cent of Africa’s population – or almost 12 million people – have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to date, Dr Moeti said.
Most African countries have relied on the UN-led Covax vaccine distribution scheme for vaccines. The scheme has faced major delays after India, the biggest producer of jabs for Covax, focused instead on tackling its own coronavirus surge.
However, even when vaccines are available, there have been issues actually getting the jabs in arms, the WHO said.
For example, a lack of funding for the roll-out, technical challenges and vaccine hesitancy have meant that 23 African countries have only managed to use around half of their already limited allocations of vaccines, Dr Moeti said.
That includes four of the five currently worst-affected countries: Tunisia, Zambia, Uganda and Namibia. Alongside South Africa, these countries account for 76 per cent of new cases across Africa in the last week, according to the WHO.
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