The new COVID-19 variants that have been reported in several African countries could undermine efforts to contain the pandemic, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Thursday.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa said that robust mitigation measures are required to avert pressure on the continent’s public health systems amid the spread of new strains of the virus.
“Even if the new variant is not more virulent, a virus that can spread more easily will put further strain on hospitals and health workers who are in many cases already overstretched,” Moeti said in a statement issued in Nairobi.
She said that enhanced vigilance is key to avert transmission of coronavirus in Africa in the light of new mutations and upticks linked to easing of containment measures.
According to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the continent’s reported COVID-19 caseload reached 3.14 million on Wednesday while total fatalities stood at 75,909.
Moeti said the continent has reported an average of 25,000 new cases daily since late December 2020 and could experience an uptick in the coming days due to intense travels and family gatherings witnessed during the festive season.
She said that South Africa, Nigeria, Gambia, Zambia and Botswana have reported new COVID-19 variants, adding that sequencing their genetic make-up is key to gain insight into their severity on patients.
“We call on all countries to increase testing and sequencing of the virus to swiftly spot, track and tackle new COVID-19 variants as soon as they appear,” said Moeti.
She said that adherence to public health measures like frequent hand washing, physical distancing and wearing of masks should be tightened in the face of new strains of coronavirus across Africa.
Moeti said that WHO has partnered with the Africa CDC to improve the continent’s capacity to conduct genetic sequencing of new COVID-19 variants.