Despite global opinion that COVID-19 could become endemic, particularly on this continent, Africa’s top public health official said last Thursday (6 January) that severe lockdowns were no longer the best way to contain COVID-19, praising South Africa for adopting that approach when responding to its latest infection wave driven by the Omicron variant.
“We are very encouraged with what we saw in South Africa during this period where they look at the data in terms of severity (of infections),” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), at a news conference.
“Using severe lockdowns as a tool is over. We should actually be looking at how we use public health and social measures more carefully and in a balanced way.”
South Africa experienced a steep rise in COVID-19 infections from late November, around the time it alerted the world to Omicron, with new infections peaking in mid-December at an all-time record. But new cases have since fallen back, reports News24, and the government did not implement any of the tough restrictions of previous waves.
Nkengasong said he feared COVID-19 could become endemic on the continent given the slow pace of vaccination, a prospect many global scientists already talk of as a given. "Unless … by the end of this year the continent actually scales up its vaccination to above 70% or 80%, my worry is that we might … be into a scenario where COVID becomes endemic," he said.
Global experts also believe COVID cannot be eliminated and is likely to become endemic, meaning it will always be present to some degree, like flu or chickenpox. Less than 10% of Africa's population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and there has been a 36% average increase in new cases reported across the continent over the past four weeks, with an 8% average increase in new deaths.
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