Public health officials in Africa expressed concern on Thursday that a dip in coronavirus surveillance and testing, as well as the easing of public health measures, would make it more difficult to detect and respond to new waves as the number of cases rises. parts of the continent is increasing.
The rise has come mainly in southern Africa, where cases have risen significantly in the past week, the World Health Organization said. According to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, the number of new cases reported in South Africa rose 80 percent from the average two weeks ago on Wednesday and the number of deaths rose 44 percent.
Many countries on the continent have reported significantly fewer tests, which could make it difficult to spot new waves, said Dr. Abdou Salam Gueye, the director of emergency preparedness and response at WHO’s regional office for Africa.
“It kind of blinds us to know exactly what the situation is,” he said at the WHO Africa weekly briefing, adding that African countries need to “establish a system that will help with earlier detection and better response to Covid.” -19. †
Although testing levels have fallen in South Africa, public health officials have been able to detect an increased burden of the virus by testing wastewater, said Dr. Kerrigan McCarthy, a specialist pathologist at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South Africa.
Meanwhile, the distribution and use of vaccines in Africa is also slow. The first factory in Africa to be licensed to produce Covid-19 vaccines for the African market has not received any orders and could close that production line in weeks if the situation does not change, according to company executives, Aspen Pharmacare .
The main driver of the latest wave is the Omicron variant and its highly transmissible sub-variants BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5, WHO officials said. People in South Africa are still required to wear masks indoors, including in schools, and the government is still limiting the size of public gatherings. But as winter approaches in the Southern Hemisphere, the country’s toughest social distancing and other public health restrictions have been eliminated.
The pandemic measures were relaxed “primarily for economic reasons, and not necessarily for medical or public health reasons,” said Dr. McCarthy.
Despite the growing number of known cases, there are some promising signs. Hospital admissions in South Africa have remained low, according to the WHO. And the number of deaths, a lagging indicator, has risen more slowly than the number of cases.