Coronavirus: Africa’s new variants are causing growing concern

2 月 26, 2021World News

Experts believe the emergence of new coronavirus variations in Africa have contributed to in an increase in the number of both cases and deaths reported in many countries on the continent.

There’s also concern that these variants can’t easily be tracked because the the type of testing required to identify them isn’t available in most countries.

What’s happening to case numbers?

At least 40 countries have now seen a second wave of the pandemic, including all countries in the southern Africa region, says the Africa Centres for Disease Control (CDC).

“This new wave of infections is thought to be associated with the emergence of variants that are more transmissible.”

A new variant of the virus emerged in South Africa last year, and has contributed to record case numbers in the southern African region, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Elsewhere in Africa, this variant has also been officially recorded in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Comoros, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania.

It’s highly likely to have reached other countries on the continent, but few have the capacity to carry out the specialised genomic sequencing required to detect coronavirus variants.

“Initial analysis indicates that the [South African] variant… may spread more readily between people,” according to the WHO.

It doesn’t appear to cause more serious illness.

However a new study shows the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – the first to have arrived in South Africa – offers “minimal protection” against mild and moderate cases of Covid-19 arising from the new strain.

The study by the University of the Witwatersrand didn’t investigate the vaccine’s efficacy in preventing more serious infections.

In South Africa itself, daily new case numbers have started to fall significantly after a second peak.

Line chart showing first and second peak in daily cases in South Africa

And because there are many more cases in South Africa than anywhere else on the continent, this has resulted in an overall fall of 18% in new cases across the continent over the past month, according to the CDC.

But there was a 40% increase in the number of deaths reported in January across the continenet compared with the previous month, according to the WHO, with total deaths on the continent now approaching 100,000.

Thirty-two countries reported an increase in deaths over the period, while for 21 countries, the rate fell or remained the same.

In Nigeria, scientists have also identified a new variant of the virus, although they say there is currently no evidence to indicate it is contributing to increased transmission.

However, cases in Nigeria have been on the rise since early December, and are only just starting to trend downwards.


The world
North America
Latin America & Caribbean
Middle East

Source: Johns Hopkins University, national public health agencies

Figures last updated 22 February 2021, 10:45 GMT

Death rates have been rising

During the first stage of the pandemic, Africa’s overall fatality rates -the proportion of those with Covid who then die – were lower than those elsewhere in the world.

There were a number of theories put forward as to why that might be the case, such as the relatively younger population, and possible cross-immunity from other coronaviruses.

Coffin being carried by funeral workers in ZimbabweIMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
image captionFuneral workers prepare for a burial near Harare, Zimbabwe

But the Africa CDC has now warned about rising fatality rates in the continent, saying that of the 55 countries they monitor, 20 are now reporting fatality rates above the current global average of 2.2%.

The fatality rate for Africa has crept up since July last year when it was on average 2.1% – to 2.6% in February this year (measured over the duration of the pandemic).

The WHO says the fatality rate is continuing to rise with the most recent data for the past month of 3.7%

The global fatality rate has fallen since the start of the pandemic, which in itself would put more African countries above the global average.

And fatality rates are also affected by how much testing is done – a country with low levels of testing will show a higher death rate because many non-fatal Covid cases are going undetected.

data in detail

Scroll table to see more data

*Deaths per 100,000 people

The world
North America
Latin America & Caribbean
Middle East
New Cases

South Africa 49,053 84.9 1,503,796
Egypt 10,353 10.5 178,151
Morocco 8,554 23.7 481,155
Tunisia 7,793 67.4 228,362
Algeria 2,961 7.0 111,917
Ethiopia 2,279 2.1 152,806
Libya 2,114 31.7 129,797
Sudan 1,864 4.5 30,128
Nigeria 1,839 0.9 152,074
Kenya 1,823 3.5 104,201
Zimbabwe 1,436 9.9 35,796
Zambia 1,020 5.9 74,503
Malawi 1,013 5.6 30,742
Senegal 808 5.1 32,927
DR Congo 700 0.8 25,080
Eswatini 645 56.8 16,789
Mozambique 595 2.0 55,643
Ghana 577 1.9 80,253
Cameroon 523 2.1 33,749
Angola 499 1.6 20,519
Mauritania 434 9.9 17,095
Namibia 402 16.4 37,483
Mali 348 1.8 8,299
Uganda 333 0.8 40,213
Madagascar 297 1.1 19,831
Lesotho 285 13.5 10,461
Botswana 254 11.3 26,524
Rwanda 249 2.0 18,053
Somalia 202 1.3 6,017
Ivory Coast 186 0.7 32,026
Niger 170 0.8 4,733
Cape Verde 144 26.5 15,048
Gambia 144 6.3 4,554
Comoros 143 17.2 3,502
Burkina Faso 139 0.7 11,797
Chad 134 0.9 3,849
Congo 127 2.4 8,625
Mayotte 92 35.4 15,792
Equatorial Guinea 89 6.8 5,798
Guinea 86 0.7 15,395
South Sudan 86 0.8 6,583
Liberia 85 1.8 1,988
Togo 81 1.0 6,319
Sierra Leone 79 1.0 3,855
Gabon 75 3.5 13,553
Benin 70 0.6 5,434
Djibouti 63 6.6 6,024
Central African Republic 63 1.4 5,001
Réunion 48 5.4 11,562
Guinea-Bissau 47 2.5 3,115
Sao Tome and Principe 21 10.0 1,610
Tanzania 21 0.0 509
Seychelles 10 10.3 2,401
Mauritius 10 0.8 603
Eritrea 7 0.2 2,685
Burundi 3 0.0 2,031

This information is regularly updated but may not reflect the latest totals for each country.

** The past data for new cases is a three day rolling average. Due to revisions in the number of cases, an average cannot be calculated for this date.

Source: Johns Hopkins University, national public health agencies and UN population data

Figures last updated: 22 February 2021, 10:45 GMT

More importantly, data for deaths should be treated with caution, given the wide variations in how countries record them.

In South Africa, research into excess deaths – that’s the number of deaths in a certain period above what would normally be expected – shows that there were 83,918 between 6 May last year and 5 January this year.

The official death toll from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic is now over 47,000.

And South Africa was just one of eight countries on the continent that the BBC found in a recent investigation had adequate death registration systems.

So coronavirus deaths across Africa as a whole are likely to be under-recorded.

How much testing is done in Africa?

The WHO says testing in Africa is still low compared to other regions, and there’s also concern that irregular levels of testing over time may be masking the true spread of the virus.

Coronavirus test sample being extracted by lab worker in KisumuIMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
image captionA sample is taken at a testing facility in Kenya

There are wide variations in testing rates and while some countries have reduced testing, others have maintained or even increased it at different points during the pandemic.

Of the bigger countries, South Africa has been doing the most and Nigeria doing relatively few tests per capita, according to Our World in Data, a UK-based project which collates Covid-19 information.

However, in some countries there are insufficient or no data available on testing to know how much is being done.

Tanzania for example stopped releasing data in May last year. President John Magufuli has been insisting the country is free from the virus.

The King’s Global Health Institute, which tracks the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, says that testing activity in some countries also fell back after the first wave of the virus had subsided.

“Those countries that cut back on testing after the first wave will…have had less extensive and timely intelligence from surveillance,” it says.

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