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Spread of new coronavirus variants in Africa raises concerns

By Edith Mutethya in Nairobi, Kenya | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-05-03 19:44

The spread of new variants of coronavirus across Africa, in light of the continent's weak health system, is rising concerns, with the Africa CDC warning member states to avoid complacency and continue observing health guidelines on preventing the spread of the virus.

According to Africa CDC data, 20 countries are currently reporting the B.1.1.7 variant of coronavirus that was first detected in the United Kingdom in September 2020.

The countries are Algeria, Angola, Cabo Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, DR Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Ghana, Gabon, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Tunisia.

Additionally, Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Comoros, DR Congo, Eswatini, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Libya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are reporting the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa.

Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, and Togo confirmed presence of the new variant in the past week, bringing the total number to 22.

In the backdrop of the increasing rate of new variants that appear more transmissible and severe, John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa CDC, urged member states to continue observing preventative measures of proper handwashing, wearing facemasks and observing social distancing.

Speaking during the virtual weekly news briefing on Thursday, Nkengasong said the virus will continue to mutate, as is the case of such disease threats.

He noted identification of a variant of coronavirus in a country or two doesn't mean it has dominated the pandemic, but it shows the effectiveness of the continent's surveillance.

"What we need to do now is to monitor those variants and to find out if they are becoming the predominant variants in the country," he said.

Concerning the devastating resurgence of coronavirus in India and concerned that a similar situation can happen in Africa, whose health systems are fragile, Nkengasong said the Africa CDC is watching the situation with total disbelief.

"The Africa CDC is working with the chair of the AU Commission and the chair of the AU to convene an emergency meeting of all ministers of health on May 8, to discuss the situation in the continent and put everybody on the alert," he said.

Nkengasong said during the meeting, they will discuss what they can do collectively to pre-vent an occurrence of a scenario like that in India in Africa.

"It's better to be over-prepared and not have a similar scenario than to be surprised by the scenario. What is happening in India cannot be ignored. The increasing number of cases in India is catastrophic for any health system to bear," he said.

Nkengasong urged African countries to avoid mass gatherings, saying they present opportunities for the virus to spread.

He urged member states to quickly utilize its vaccine consignments and vaccinate as many citizens as it can.

"I want to remind everyone that the continent continues to experience coronavirus vaccine scarcity, and so it is our recommendation for member states to utilize all incoming vaccine supplies, as the benefits far outweigh the rare risks reported with use of the vaccines,' he said.

As of April 26, over 37.1 million vaccine doses had been acquired by Africa CDC member states, with approximately 17.9 million doses administered.

"This figure corresponds to a coverage of just 1 percent, at the continental level, with 0.37 percent of the population having received a full vaccine regimen," Nkengasong said.

Among the countries that have administered the most doses of coronavirus vaccines, Morocco has administered the highest number of doses, standing at 8.9 percent, and used 82.8 percent of its supply, followed by Nigeria, which has administered 1.2 million doses representing 27.7 percent of its total supply.

Ethiopia on the other hand, has administered 908, 578 doses and used 36.3 percent of its supply, while Ghana has administered 842, 521 doses, representing all the supply that the country received. Kenya, which has used 80.7 percent of its vaccine supply, has administered 822, 650 doses.

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