The Omicron variant is reaching more countries in Africa, while weekly Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the continent surged by 93 per cent, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday, December 9, 2021.
It noted that signs of hope as preliminary data indicates that hospitalisations across South Africa remain low.
Ten different African countries, including South Africa, currently account for 46 per cent of the nearly 1,000 Omicron cases reported by 57 countries across the world.
WHO said emerging data from South Africa indicates that Omicron may cause less severe illness.
It said that the ICU occupancy in South Africa between Nov. 14 and Dec. 4 was only 6.3 per cent, which is very low compared with the time when the country was facing the peak linked to the Delta variant in July.
In spite of the widespread global presence of Omicron, more than 60 countries have imposed travel bans that are mainly targeting southern African countries, some of which have yet to report any Omicron case.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said with Omicron now present in 60 countries globally, travel bans that mainly target African countries are hard to justify.
“We call for science-based public health measures to counter the spread of COVID-19.
“Travel restrictions, which come at the height of the end-of-year tourist season is ravaging Africa’s economies, with a knock-on impact that is potentially devastating to the health of Africans.’’
To ramp up the response to the Omicron variant and the rise in cases, WHO is supporting countries to improve genomic surveillance to track the virus and detect other potential variants of concern.
According to WHO, Africa has so far received more than 372 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and administered 248 million.
Although the pace of vaccination has increased in recent months, only 7.8 per cent of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.
“What we do know is that uneven distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally is creating an ideal environment for COVID-19 variants to emerge and spread explosively and regions with the least access to vaccines seem likely to suffer the most.
“With the end-of-year travel and festivities upon us, limited vaccination, rising COVID-19 cases, and the new variant paint an ominous picture for our region.”