Warnings are mounting about a new wave of Covid-19 infections gathering speed across the African continent amid a dire shortage of vaccines.
Africa is staring into the face of a Covid third wave, says the World Health Organization (WHO).
More than a dozen countries have reported their worst figures since the start of the pandemic, with more than 650,000 new cases recorded on the continent between May 3, when the so-called third wave began, and June 27, reports Al Jazeera.
At a press briefing on Thursday, WHO’s Africa director Dr Matshidiso Moeti warned that “the speed and scale of Africa’s third wave is like nothing we’ve seen before.”
She added, “Covid-19 cases are doubling every three weeks, compared to every four weeks at the start of the second wave. Almost 202,000 cases were reported in the past week and the continent is on the verge of exceeding its worst week ever in this pandemic.”
Moeti said that among the 14 African countries now in resurgence, 12 have detected coronavirus variants of concern, including nine with the highly contagious Delta variant.
“With the rampant spread of more contagious variants, the threat to Africa rises to a whole new level.”
A recent report published by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security stated that Africa “has exhibited a substantial increase in daily incidence since mid-May”, with daily case numbers rising threefold.
The report cites “weak adherence to public health measures, including an increase in social gatherings and movement” as contributing to the recent spike in infections.
First identified in India, Delta – said to be up to 60% more transmissible than other variants – has been detected in 16 African countries, according to the WHO.
These include South Africa, where President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a return to strict measures on Monday as the country recorded nearly 160,000 active cases.
Uganda has been under a strict 42-day lockdown since June 18 in response to a resurgence in infections with the Delta variant predominating. 45% of Uganda’s 75,000 total reported cases have occurred in just the past two months.
There is a lag in vaccination figures across Africa as health officials appeal for more doses.
Just over 1% of the African population has been fully vaccinated, according to the WHO.
In world terms, Africa has administered just 1.5% of the 2.7 billion doses administered globally.
The WHO has warned that nearly 90% of African countries are expected to miss a target of vaccinating 10% of their population by September. For them to do so would require a further 225 million doses.
Some countries initially experienced high levels of vaccine hesitancy amid concerns surrounding reports of rare blood clots in recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab in Europe.
But since early June, queues at vaccination sites across Africa have lengthened significantly as the toll of the virus becomes more visible. However many sites have only a few jabs to administer.
The head of WHO said, “There is no vaccine, so why do we talk about vaccine hesitancy? The problem is vaccine supply.”
Strive Masiyiwa, the African Union special envoy leading efforts to obtain vaccines, sharply criticised Europe, saying “Not one dose, not one vial, has left a European factory for Africa”.
Masiyiwa further said Covax had pledged to deliver 700 million vaccine doses to the continent by December, but by June, Africa has received just 65 million doses overall, with fewer than 50 million doses arriving via Covax.
“Pay up your money,” he told donor countries. “We will no longer measure pledges, we will measure vaccines arriving at our airports.”