As daily COVID-19 cases in South Africa topped 10,000 cases today, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office said today that an uptick there and in a few other African countries is an early warning sign for other nations to step up their preparedness.
Cases spike in 3 southern Africa nations
At a briefing, WHO officials said Africa’s cases have risen for a third straight week, with 87% of the cases from Southern Africa. Also, neighboring Eswatini and Namibia have reported case rises of 50% over the past 2 weeks, compared to the previous 2 weeks.
In South Africa, the hot spot, cases have quadrupled over the past 3 weeks. Hospitalizations are still low, but in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, hospitalizations and deaths have jumped 90% to 100% in the past 2 weeks.
Abdou Salam Gueye, MD, MPH, the regional office’s emergency preparedness director, said, “This uptick in cases is an early warning sign which we are closely monitoring. Now is the time for countries to step up preparedness and ensure that they can mount an effective response in the event of a fresh pandemic wave.”
Officials warned that Africa’s last four waves occurred around the middle and end of the year, coinciding with winter seasons and high population movements over the holidays.
Gueye said major pushes are needed to ensure that everyone completes their primary vaccine series and that people in high-risk groups get their booster doses.
Since April, South Africa has detected mostly the BA.2 Omicron subvariant, but also rising numbers of more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which officials said is concerning, due to concerns about potential immune escape. Alongside the subvariants, relaxed social measures are also fueling the surge.
Yesterday the country reported more than 10,000 daily cases for the first time since early January, with test positivity remaining high at 25.3%.
North Korea detection leads to lockdown
In other global developments:
- North Korea’s state media said the country has detected its first COVID-19 cases, which involve the Omicron variant and occurred in Pyongyang, the country’s capital, according to CNN. Officials have declared a national emergency, ordered a lockdown for all cities, and are distributing medical supplies. North Korea isn’t known to have launched any COVID-19 vaccination campaigns and hasn’t accepted it allocated COVAX shipments from the WHO and its partners.
- The WHO’s technology access group and the United Nations–based Medicines Patent Pool today announced they have finalized a licensing agreement with the US National Institutes of Health for the development of several new treatments, early-state vaccines, and tests for COVID-19. Two licenses cover 11 technologies, including the stabilized SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in current vaccines. The agreements are part of a plan to allow manufacturers around the world make pandemic-fighting tools more accessible to low- and middle-income countries.
- In China, rumors of a lockdown in Beijing—which officials have denied—have led to panic buying, according to Reuters. As the country battles ongoing Omicron in some of its major cities with its “zero COVID” approach, officials said they will strictly limit travel outside the country for Chinese citizens.