Doosuur Iwambe, Abuja
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that African countries have recorded a daily average of 25,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus disease otherwise referred to as ‘COVID-19’ in the last two weeks.
Speaking at the first online COVID-19 media briefing of the Africa region on Thursday, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa said that the continent was spared of much of the adverse effects of the deadly virus with relatively lower number of Infections as compared to what occurred in other parts of the world.
Dr Moeti who spoke during a virtual press conference on Thursday facilitated by APO Group was joined by Prof Francisca Mutapi, Professor in Global Health Infection and Immunity, University of Edinburgh, UK, and Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
She said, ‘’an average of 25 223 cases were reported each day between 28 December 2020 and 10 January 2021 in Africa, which is nearly 39% higher than the July 2020 two-week peak of 18 104 daily average cases. Yet numbers may rise further in the coming days in the wake of travelling, gathering and festivities over Christmas and New Year holidays’’.
While revealing that a new variant of the virus called 501Y.V2 is circulating widely in South Africa, accounting for most of the new infections during the second wave, she added that mutations of the virus are unsurprising as the more the pandemic spreads the higher the likelihood of changes.
The global health body however noted that preliminary analysis finds the 501Y.V2 variation to be more transmissible adding that genomic sequencing has found the variant present in Botswana, the Gambia and Zambia.
“Even if the new variant is not more virulent, a virus that can spread more easily will put further strain on hospitals and health workers who are in many cases already overstretched.
“This is a stark reminder that the virus is relentless, that it still presents a manifest threat, and that our war is far from won.
“We call on all countries to increase testing and sequencing of the virus to swiftly spot, track and tackle new COVID-19 variants as soon as they appear. To defeat an agile, adaptive and relentless enemy, we must know and understand its every move, and double down on what we know works best against all variants of the virus.
“We must not become complacent. We must persist with the proven public health measures that helped stop the spread of the virus during the first wave – that’s physical distancing, constant handwashing and wearing masks in public spaces’’, she added.
Meanwhile, Nigeria is also carrying out more investigations on a variant identified in samples collected in August and October. While for now there are no reports of the COVID-19 variant circulating in the United Kingdom cropping up in the African region, further investigation is needed.
With WHO support, African countries are reinforcing genome sequencing efforts, which are key to finding and understanding new variants as they emerge and to help blunt their impact.
WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention network of genome sequencing laboratories in Africa is supporting governments with training and data analysis on genome sequencing, bioinformatics and technical expertise. WHO has also developed guidance on containing new variants and is assisting countries to manage and safely transport samples for sequencing and analysis.