World

Delta variant driving up COVID-19 case counts, fatalities in Africa

Driven by the delta variant, a new wave of COVID-19 is sweeping across the African continent where new cases, hospital admissions and deaths are increasing.

World Health Organization says surge most acute in South Africa where cases doubling every 3 weeks

A health worker sprays sanitizer in a COVID-19 testing site at the Fourways Life Hospital in Johannesburg last Monday. (Emmanuel Croset/AFP/Getty Images)

Driven by the delta variant, a new wave of COVID-19 is sweeping across the African continent where new cases, hospital admissions and deaths are increasing.

South Africa is leading the new surge in Africa, where case numbers are doubling every three weeks, according to the World Health Organization.

"The speed and scale of Africa's third wave is like nothing we've seen before," said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for Africa.

The delta variant, reported in 16 African countries, has become dominant in South Africa, which accounts for more than half of Africa's new cases.

It was detected in 97 per cent of samples sequenced in Uganda and in 79 per cent of samples sequenced in Congo, according to WHO.

"The rampant spread of more contagious variants pushes the threat to Africa up to a whole new level," Moeti said in a statement.

"More transmission means more serious illness and more deaths, so everyone must act now and boost prevention measures to stop an emergency becoming a tragedy."

Far more vaccination needed

Less than two per cent of Africa's 1.3 billion people have received even one dose of a vaccine.

With more than 20,000 new cases reported Friday, South Africa's total of 1.9 million cases, including 66,323 deaths, represents more than 30 per cent of the 5.5 million cases reported by Africa's 54 countries, which have a population of 1.3 billion people, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A family walks past a mural promoting vaccination for COVID-19 in Duduza township, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 23. (Themba Hadebe/The Associated Press)

Johannesburg and the surrounding Gauteng province are South Africa's epicentre with its hospitals reaching 91 per cent capacity and 5,500 additional health workers deployed, the health department announced Friday.

Staff at Tshepong Hospital in Klerksdorp, about 170 kilometres southwest of Johannesburg, say they are battling to cope with the new surge.

"With this new strain in the third wave, I think it's more aggressive than the second one," said Onthatile Mmusi, a nurse at Tshepong Hospital. "We tend to get patients and when they come in their oxygen levels are already down."

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