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Decline in COVID-19 cases seen in Africa

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-30 06:54

FILE PHOTO: People stand in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, at the Narok County Referral Hospital, in Narok, Kenya, December 1, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa has not recorded an upsurge in cases following the Christmas and new year travel season.

While expressing cautious optimism over sustained containment of the pandemic in Africa, the World Health Organization also warned resurgences are likely due to circulating variants and urged countries to remain alert.

Data from the United Nations agency indicate that Africa recorded 20,552 new infection cases in the first three weeks of January, translating to a 97 percent decline compared with the same period last year.

Associated COVID-19 deaths stood at 88, a 99 percent decline over the same period last year.

The declines in both COVID-19 cases and deaths came despite a rise in cases in South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia over the past two weeks.

"For the first time since COVID-19 shook our lives, January is not synonymous with a surge. Africa is embarking on the fourth year of the pandemic with the hope of moving past the emergency response mode," Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for WHO Africa, said during a virtual news briefing on Thursday, attributing the decrease partly to low testing rates.

Two major waves

Africa was hit by two major waves of the pandemic driven by more transmissible and lethal variants in 2021, but the WHO said the continent had no major peaks last year.

With gradual decreases in COVID-19 cases over the past year, the WHO said a low-level transmission of the virus is expected to continue in the coming months with possible occasional rises.

Despite the low number of cases, Moeti urged African countries to stay alert and have measures in place to effectively detect and tackle any upsurge in infection, noting that variants continue to circulate.

She said Botswana and South Africa have detected the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, one of the sublineages with public health implications.

Vaccination rates still remain low in Africa even though countries have stepped up efforts to broaden the exercise since last year, posing major health risks.

As of Jan 23, almost 30 percent of Africa's population had completed the primary vaccination series, with only four countries in Africa having vaccinated more than 70 percent of their populations.

To increase further coverage, Moeti urged African countries to integrate COVID-19 vaccination into routine healthcare services that take the needs of the most vulnerable into account.

"So far, 12 African countries have started integrating COVID-19 vaccination as part of regular health services," she said.

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