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Many African Countries Toughen COVID-19 Restrictions as Fourth Wave Spreads

At least 21 African countries are now experiencing a fourth wave of the pandemic, according to the Africa CDC. Algeria, Kenya and Mauritius are undergoing a fifth one.

December 26, 2021 / 06:55 PM IST
Representative Image (Source: Reuters)

Representative Image (Source: Reuters)

In just the past three weeks, the percentage of Kenyans who tested positive for the coronavirus jumped from less than one percent to more than 30 percent — the country’s highest positivity rate yet.

In Uganda, nearly 50 lawmakers and their staff members, some of them vaccinated, tested positive this past week after attending a sports tournament in neighbouring Tanzania.

And in Zimbabwe, skyrocketing infections have pushed the government to institute new restrictions on businesses and incoming travellers.

Across Africa, countries are reporting a surge in COVID-19 cases, and health officials worry about how the new omicron variant will impact the world’s least-vaccinated continent. Omicron, first detected in southern Africa, remains highly contagious, but so far, it is causing fewer deaths and hospitalizations than previous variants such as delta.

The latest wave comes as many African countries were beginning to reopen and businesses were hoping for a robust holiday season — only for governments to reintroduce curfews and quarantines and impose new vaccine mandates.

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Even as Britain and the United States lifted omicron-related travel restrictions on southern African states in the past week, Africans faced new travel restrictions from elsewhere because of the rising infections. Beginning Saturday, the United Arab Emirates was suspending entry for travellers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania, and impose additional requirements for those traveling from Ghana and Uganda.

“We are unfortunately going to be celebrating the end-of-the-year holiday season in the middle of the fourth wave that’s sweeping across the continent,” Dr John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday.

At least 21 African countries are now experiencing a fourth wave of the pandemic, according to the Africa CDC. Algeria, Kenya and Mauritius are undergoing a fifth one.

Cases have more than doubled in recent weeks in nations including Botswana, Nigeria, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Positivity rates have soared, too: Malawi reported a 46.29% positivity rate Thursday compared with just a 1.54% rate on Nov. 30. Infections are surging among young people in Uganda, with some public health researchers attributing that to younger age groups being the most active during the holiday season.

Omicron is tearing through Africa, with 22 nations now reporting the variant. It is not known whether the highly contagious variant is the dominant one or the one driving the surge of infections across Africa.

(Author: Abdi Latif Dahir and Jeffrey Moyo)/(c.2021 The New York Times Company)
New York Times
first published: Dec 26, 2021 06:55 pm
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