Covid-19 is once again on the rise in certain parts of the world. But, because these countries mostly have high levels of vaccination, deaths and hospital admission numbers are proving low compared with earlier in the pandemic. But African countries are now dropping their Covid-19 restrictions, despite low levels of vaccination.
The United Nations wants countries to vaccinate at least 70% of their populations. But just 16% of Africans have been fully vaccinated, compared with the global average of 57% — mostly because countries on the continent ended up at the back of the Covid vaccine queue thanks to their wealthier peers hoarding vaccines.
Nevertheless, the number of people dying from Covid on the continent has stayed low. Of the six million global deaths, just 250 000 have been in Africa and 100 000 of those in South Africa. Scientists have attributed this variously to the speed with which countries locked down early in the pandemic, the youthfulness of African nations’ populations compared with Europe and Asia, and less inhospitable winter weather. Because of this low death rate, and despite the low vaccination rates, an increasing number of African countries are scaling back on their Covid restrictions and precautions.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said last week that at the end of 2020 half of Africa’s countries were conducting thorough contact tracing. Now, 22 countries aren’t doing any tracing, 19 are doing contact tracing of severe cases and 13 are still doing serious surveillance. The WHO also found that fewer countries are requiring isolation from people with Covid-19. Where 41 countries banned mass gatherings a year ago, that number is down to 22. But wearing masks has remained across much of the continent, especially on public transport.
Meanwhile, global cases are on the rise, with sharp spikes in New Zealand and Hong Kong and, in the case of Shanghai, China’s harshest lockdown yet. We might be done with this pandemic, but it seems it’s not quite done with us.
This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.