Current Covid-19 wave less fatal than others, says World Health Organisation

Over the past seven days South Africa has experienced a 66% rise in new Covid-19 cases compared with the previous week, but admissions to hospital have been low, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).  

For the whole of Africa, there has been an 83% rise in new cases during the past week, driven by the Delta and the Omicron variants. But the current surge is causing fewer deaths compared to previous waves.

Hospital admissions in Africa have increased by 67% during the period but the bed occupancy rate for intensive care units remains low at 7.5%, with 14% of the patients receiving supplemental oxygen. 

“We are cautiously optimistic that deaths and severe illness will remain low in the current wave, but a slow vaccine roll-out in Africa means both will be much higher than they should be,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa. 

The cumulative number of recorded Covid-19 cases in Africa stands at 8.9 million, as at the week ending on 12 December.

The number of new Covid-19 cases in South Africa is doubling every five days — the shortest rate of increases reported this year, the WHO said in a statement. Fatalities dropped by 19% during the period under observation. 

As of 13 December, only 20 African countries had vaccinated at least 10% of their population — the global target WHO had set for September. South Africa has reached this goal. At the current pace, the WHO estimates that it will take until next May before Africa reaches 40% coverage and August 2024 before it reaches the 70% mark.

“In a world where Africa had the doses and support to vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of 2021 — a level many wealthy countries have achieved — we probably would be seeing tens of thousands of fewer deaths from Covid-19 next year,” Moeti said. “But we can still save many lives if we can accelerate the pace of vaccination in early 2022.”

Africa’s vaccine challenges are being compounded by Omicron-related travel bans, said the WHO. Within hours of South African health authorities announcing the detection of the new Omicron variant, airlinks to some European countries and the United States were slammed shut on several Southern African countries. 

“Blanket travel bans have little impact on the course of an epidemic but have a massive socioeconomic effect,” said Moeti. “Coming after two years of Covid-19, these new travel restrictions are jeopardising the health of millions of Africans.”

According to the WHO, South Africa no longer leads the world in Omicron cases. Yet more than 70 countries continue to impose travel bans mainly targeting African countries.

Globally, there have been more than 2 700 Omicron cases reported in 59 countries, including 11 African countries that account for only about 33% of the total cases. 

Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G.

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Anathi Madubela
Anathi Madubela is a business journalist with a keen interest in the retail sector.

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