Covid Variant Fueled Record Infections in Africa, WHO Says

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A variant of the coronavirus first identified in South Africa is driving record numbers of infections and deaths as it spreads across the region, the World Health Organization said.

The variant has been found in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and the French territory of Mayotte, and is probably circulating in other countries on the continent, said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa. Another fast-spreading mutant that surfaced in the U.K. has been detected in Nigeria and the Gambia.

“In addition to the new variants, Covid-19 fatigue and the aftermath of year-end gatherings risk powering a perfect storm and driving up Africa’s second wave and overwhelming health facilities,” Moeti said Thursday in a statement.

The South African variant was detected Thursday in the U.S. state of South Carolina, following on the heels of the U.K. variant that’s already been seen in multiple states. Fast-spreading versions of the virus are raising concern as scientists watch to see whether they become more deadly or gain ability to evade new vaccines.

The South African version has been seen in least 24 countries outside Africa. It’s about 50% more transmissible than earlier versions but unlikely to cause more severe illness, scientists said earlier this month.

Twenty-two African countries are experiencing a resurgence, with infections on the continent increasing by 50% in the month ending Jan. 25 compared with the previous four weeks. Deaths rose two-fold over the period, with more than 15,000 concentrated in 10 countries, according to the WHO statement.

The agency, together with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, has helped set up a network of laboratories equipped to genetically analyze and spot variants in eight African nations. The agency urged countries to ship at least 20 samples to sequencing laboratories every month to help monitor the situation.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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