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Cases drop for first time as Africa’s fourth COVID-19 wave ebbs

By Chukwuma Muanya (Lagos) and Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja)
21 January 2022   |   4:01 am
Weekly COVID-19 cases in Africa have dropped significantly and deaths reduced for the first time since the peak of the fourth pandemic wave propelled by the Omicron variant.

(Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

Weekly COVID-19 cases in Africa have dropped significantly and deaths reduced for the first time since the peak of the fourth pandemic wave propelled by the Omicron variant. The decline nudges the continent past its shortest upsurge yet that lasted 56 days.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said, “newly reported cases fell by 20 per cent in the week (leading) to January 16, while deaths dropped by eight per cent.

The global agency noted that the decrease in deaths is still small, adding that more monitoring was needed.

It said if the trend continues, the surge in deaths would also be the shortest reported so far during this crisis period.

Speaking during a virtual press conference, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, noted that South Africa, where Omicron was first sequenced, and which has accounted for the bulk of cases and deaths, had recorded a downward trend over the past four weeks.

According to her, only North Africa reported an increase in cases over the past week, with a 55 per cent spike. Cases fell across the rest of Africa, where, as of January 16, there were 10.4 million cumulative COVID-19 cases and more than 233 000 deaths.

She said: “Omicron-fuelled pandemic wave has resulted in the lowest cumulative average case fatality ratio – the proportion of deaths among confirmed cases – to date in Africa, standing at 0.68 per cent compared with the three previous wave during which the case fatality ratio was above 2.4 per cent. The variant has now been reported in 36 African nations, and 169 globally.

“While the acceleration, peak and decline of this wave have been unmatched, its impact has been moderate, and Africa is emerging with fewer deaths and lower hospitalisations. But the continent has yet to turn the table on this pandemic.”

Moeti, who argued that the pandemic waves are inevitable so long as the virus continues to circulate, said Africa must not only broaden vaccinations, but also gain increased and equitable access to critical COVID-19 therapeutics to save lives and effectively combat this pandemic.

She observed that following initial negotiations with the Swiss pharmaceutical Roche, WHO is supporting the shipment of a limited number of vials of Tocilizumab to African countries in the coming weeks. Cape Verde and Uganda have already received vials. Burkina Faso, Ghana and Tanzania are due to receive a consignment soon.

Tocilizumab is an immunosuppressive drug, which can be used to treat patients with severe COVID-19.