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Most Regions See Resurgence of COVID-19 Infections

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The director of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, reported recently that a new wave of COVID-19 infections appears to be building in his country, a pattern that is repeating across much of Africa.

According to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), infections are rising in all regions of the continent except Southern Africa, where the dramatic drop in South Africa’s numbers came after its short-lived fifth wave.

While South Africa pinned its latest wave on the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the omicron variant, it is unclear what is driving the new wave in other countries. In Europe and parts of North America, recent waves were driven by the BA.2 strain of omicron.

In late May, Africa CDC Acting Director Dr. Ahmed Ogwell reported that 16 countries had reported the presence of B.A.2 in their populations.

Ogwell reported that over the course of May. infections rose 90% in East Africa, 36% in North Africa, 35% in West Africa, and 12% in Central Africa. Deaths rose 5% in that same period.

“This shows that the virus is not totally out of the system,” Asiedu-Bekoe told myjoyonline.com news.

This wave of COVID-19 overlaps with an outbreak of flu in Ghana, he added, so many people are coughing and sneezing.

“Most of the test results come out as either H3N2 (flu) or COVID-19,” Asiedu-Bekoe said.

Recent reports from hospitals in North America show that COVID-19 infections have changed the behavior of flu and rhinoviruses that cause the common cold. Among other things, COVID-19 appears to be shifting seasonal flu outbreaks to later in the year.

On the other side of the continent, Uganda is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases similar to Ghana’s.

Ugandan Minister of Health Jane Ruth Aceng has said the increase is similar to the spike the country experienced during the delta variant outbreak in June 2021. In the first weeks of June 2022, the country recorded about 41,000 COVID-19 cases a day on average, with about 150 hospitalizations and no deaths, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

“As a country, we are well-prepared to respond to save lives than before,” Aceng told a recent press briefing. “We will optimize the existing control and mitigation tools at personal and community levels.”

Aceng said public health experts are recommending masks, hand-washing, and medication to reduce the impact of the infection wave. The IHME analysis estimated that 93% of Ugandans have been infected with COVID-19 and, therefore, have some form of immunity.

Ethiopia, according to the Africa CDC, saw its new COVID-19 cases more than double during May. The country is experiencing nearly 600 new cases per day on average, which is about 14% of the total reached during the last peak reported on December 30, 2021, according to Reuters.

Neighboring Kenya saw its count of new cases rise 70% in May, according to the Africa CDC.

Even as case numbers increase, they are far fewer than the spike associated with the first omicron wave many countries saw in late December 2021 or early January 2022. Kenya’s 215 daily cases is about 10% of the number of cases recorded when the first omicron wave peaked in early January.

In South Africa, a recent study of blood donations showed 98% of the population has some level of immunity to COVID-19. Public health experts have credited that widespread immunity with reducing the overall impact of the latest wave of infections.

During a recent press briefing, Ogwell said it is not clear that countries such as Kenya have reached similar levels of herd immunity. Greater exposure to COVID-19, either through natural infection or medical intervention, will be needed to create that level of immunity, he said.

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