The number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Africa have dropped to their lowest levels since the pandemic began, marking the longest decline yet seen in the disease, according to the World Health Organization.
In a statement on Thursday, the U.N. health agency said COVID-19 infections due to the Omicron surge had “tanked” from a peak of more than 308,000 weekly cases to fewer than 20,000 last week. Cases and deaths fell by 29 percent and 37 percent respectively in the last week; deaths decreased to 239 from the previous week.
“This low level of infection has not been seen since April 2020 in the early stages of the pandemic in Africa,” WHO said, noting that no country in the region is currently seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases.
The agency warned, however, that with winter approaching for southern hemisphere countries, “there is a high risk of another wave of new infections.”
The coronavirus spreads more easily in cooler temperatures when people are more likely to gather in larger numbers indoors.
“With the virus still circulating, the risk of new and potentially more deadly variants emerging remains, and the pandemic control measures are pivotal to [an] effective response to a surge in infections,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa director.
The decline in Africa is consistent with falling COVID-19 numbers globally, although in China officials fear the country still does not have its latest surge in Omicron-involved cases under control despite a “zero-tolerance” approach that has triggered a three-week lockdown in Shanghai, where at least 15 million people are still barred from going outside.
Meanwhile, scientists in the US warn the country may be about to see a wave of cases driven by the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which has already peaked across Europe. The country expected to soon mark the deaths of at least one million Americans killed by COVID.
Earlier this week, WHO said scientists in Botswana and South Africa have detected new forms of the Omicron variant, labeled as BA.4 and BA.5, but are not sure yet if they might be more transmissible or dangerous.
Despite repeated warnings from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus that the coronavirus would devastate Africa, the continent has been among the least affected by the pandemic.
In an analysis released last week, WHO estimated that up to 65 percent of people in Africa have been infected with the coronavirus and said unlike many other regions, most people infected on the continent did not show any symptoms.