CAPE TOWN - Weekly Covid-19 cases in Africa have dropped significantly and deaths dipped for the first time since the peak of the fourth pandemic wave propelled by the Omicron variant.
The decline nudges the continent past its shortest upsurge yet, which lasted 56 days, World Health Organization (WHO) experts said during a virtual briefing on Thursday.
Newly reported cases fell by 20% in the week to January 16, while deaths dropped by 8%. The decrease in deaths is still small and further monitoring is needed, but if the trend continues the surge in deaths will also be the shortest reported so far during this pandemic.
South Africa, where Omicron was first sequenced, and which has accounted for the bulk of cases and deaths, has recorded a downward trend over the past four weeks. Only North Africa reported an increase in cases over the past week, with a 55% spike. Cases fell across the rest of Africa, where, as of January 16, there were 10.4 million cumulative Covid-19 cases and more than 233 000 deaths.
The Omicron-fuelled pandemic wave has resulted in the lowest cumulative average case fatality ratio to date in Africa, standing at 0.68% compared with the three previous waves during which the case fatality ratio was above 2.4%.
“While the acceleration, peak and decline of this wave have been unmatched, its impact has been moderate, and Africa is emerging with fewer deaths and lower hospitalisations. But the continent has yet to turn the tables on this pandemic,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.
“So long as the virus continues to circulate, further pandemic waves are inevitable. Africa must not only broaden vaccinations, but also gain increased and equitable access to critical Covid-19 therapeutics to save lives and effectively combat this pandemic,” Moeti said.
The African region’s current case fatality ratio remains the highest in the world, although it has been lowered in the last two waves.