COVID-19 Cases, Deaths Drop Dramatically in Africa
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, but new infections and reported deaths have dropped significantly in Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Reported cases fell for 16 consecutive weeks, while deaths dropped for eight straight weeks, the WHO reported on April 14. That span marked the longest-running decline of new infections and deaths since the pandemic began.
Across the continent, new infections dropped from a peak of more than 308,000 cases per week at the start of the year to less than 20,000 in the week ending April 10. At the time, no African country saw an increase of COVID-19 cases.
“Despite the decreasing infections, it is crucial that countries remain vigilant and maintain surveillance measures, including genomic surveillance to swiftly detect circulating COVID-19 variants [and] enhance testing,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said on the organization’s website. “With the virus still circulating, the risk of new and potentially more deadly variants emerging remains, and the pandemic control measures are pivotal to effective response to a surge in infections.”
With infections decreasing, several countries eased preventive measures, such as surveillance and quarantine, dropping mask mandates and allowing large gatherings. The easing of preventive measures has allowed businesses to reopen and drawn tourists back to the continent.
The WHO urged governments to weigh the risks of relaxing the measures, understand the capacity of their health systems and their population immunity to COVID-19, and weigh national socioeconomic priorities. The agency also advised that governments should have steps in place to quickly reinstate preventive measures, if necessary.
Experts say there is a greater risk of a new wave on infections in the southern hemisphere as the cold season approaches. Previous COVID-19 waves in Africa have coincided with lower temperatures.
In early April, scientists in Botswana and South Africa detected two new forms of the omicron variant, but it was not immediately clear if they were more transmissible or dangerous.
As of April 24, the continent recorded more than 11.4 million COVID-19 infections and more than 252,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But experts say the true statistics are likely much higher due to a lack of testing, poor vital record-keeping by national and provincial governments, and a large proportion of deaths that have happened away from hospitals.
Up to 65% of the continent’s population has likely been infected with COVID-19, but most people were asymptomatic, WHO reported in early April.
Moeti said the WHO study suggests the continent’s official statistics were “likely only scratching the surface of the real extent of coronavirus infections in Africa.”
A new anaylis showed that the “number of infections could be as much as 97 times higher than the number of confirmed reported cases,” Moeti said an Al-Jazeera report.
Experts believe that Africa’s young population and lower incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, along with warmer weather, have helped it avoid larger, deadlier COVID-19 waves, according to a Voice of America report.
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