The highly infectious Delta variant is storming through the African continent while a mere 1.2 percent of the entire African population are fully vaccinated.
The highly infectious Delta variant of coronavirus is spreading like wildfire at record speeds across the African continent.
Infection numbers have continuously increased in the continent for six weeks with 224,000 new cases being recorded every week. The real numbers are expected to be much higher than the official estimate. Deaths have also increased by 15 percent across 38 African countries to nearly 3,000 in the same period.
"The speed and scale of Africa's third wave is like nothing we've seen before," Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's regional director for Africa.
The worrying trend raises alarm considering the low numbers of tests and the lack of available vaccines in most of the African countries.
“Covid-19 cases are doubling every three weeks, compared to every four weeks at the start of the second wave. Almost 202,000 cases were reported in the past week and the continent is on the verge of exceeding its worst week ever in this pandemic,” Dr Moeti said.
The Delta variant, which is said to be around 60 percent more infectious than other variants, has so far been detected in 16 African countries.
The continent’s worst-hit South Africa records more than 16,000 new Covid-19 infections a day, largely because of the more infectious Delta variant, and only about 5 percent of the population have received at least one vaccine dose.
The constant rise has forced President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce a return to level-four measures last week which includes a nationwide curfew between 9 pm and 4 am and a ban on the sale of alcohol.
Apart from South Africa, two countries in particular that have been overwhelmed with the unstoppable rise of cases, are Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Uganda, 45 million people have been under a strict dusk-to-dawn curfew since June 18 as the Delta variant accounts for 97 percent of samples sequenced. With frozen public and private transport, many traders and street vendors in capital Kampala sleep where they worked all day at markets.
The head of DR Congo's fight against Covid-19 warned of a "catastrophe" if the Delta variant keeps rapidly spreading in the country, saying hospitals were already overwhelmed and morgues overflowing.
DR Congo's case numbers have jumped over the last month as the Delta variant now represents 84 percent of total infections. The country’s total number of cases stands at around 42,000.
Jean-Jacques Muyembe is the head of the National Institute of Biomedical Research and the person charged with the country's coronavirus response,
"The contamination is rapid and if it continues, it will be a catastrophe in the DRC," Muyembe said in an online press conference held by the World Health Organization's Africa office.
"Our hospitals are overwhelmed, the morgues are overflowing, many politicians and university professors have been infected with the virus, and many have died."
African countries are also suffering from a crippling shortage of Covid vaccines.
Only 15 million people, just 1.2 percent of the entire African population are fully vaccinated, according to the WHO.
The African Union special envoy tasked with leading efforts to procure Covid-19 vaccines for the continent has blasted Europe on Thursday, saying that “not one dose, not one vial, has left a European factory for Africa”.
Strive Masiyiwa took aim at the global scheme COVAX which was run by various organisations such as WHO and UN that was meant to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
Masiyiwa said COVAX had promised to deliver 700 million vaccine doses to Africa by December. But at mid-year, Africa has received just 65 million doses overall. Less than 50 million doses via COVAX have arrived.
“We are very far away from our target,” John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“We don’t want to be seen as the continent of Covid ... (In Europe) the stadiums are full of young people shouting and hugging. We can’t do that in Africa.”
Moreover, even those Africans who have been fully vaccinated may not be able to travel freely in a post-pandemic world. European Union has recently imposed restrictions on people vaccinated with Covishield, the Indian-produced version of the EU-accepted AstraZeneca vaccine.
Most of the low and middle-income people of the Global South have been vaccinated by the Indian produced vaccine.
Dr Ayoade Alakija is the co-chair of the African Union’s Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance told BBC that if the decision is confirmed, that would amount to what she calls “vaccine-apartheid”.
“What it feels like there is a two-tier vaccine system in this new world… where we are living in one world, the pandemic is almost over, in another world the pandemic is quite frankly beginning,” Dr Alakija told BBC.