Many African Nations Toughen Covid Restrictions as Fourth Wave Spreads

NAIROBI, Kenya — In simply the previous three weeks, the proportion of Kenyans who examined constructive for the coronavirus jumped from lower than 1 p.c to greater than 30 p.c — the nation’s highest positivity price but.

In Uganda, practically 50 lawmakers and their employees members, a few of them vaccinated, examined constructive this week after attending a sports activities match in neighboring Tanzania.

And in Zimbabwe, skyrocketing infections have pushed the federal government to institute new restrictions on companies and incoming vacationers.

Throughout Africa, international locations are reporting a surge in Covid circumstances, and well being officers fear about how the brand new Omicron variant will have an effect on the world’s least-vaccinated continent. Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa, stays extremely contagious, however up to now it’s inflicting fewer deaths and hospitalizations than earlier variants resembling Delta.

The most recent wave comes as many African international locations have been starting to reopen and companies have been hoping for a sturdy vacation season — just for governments to reintroduce curfews and quarantines and impose new vaccine mandates.

Whilst Britain and america lifted Omicron-related journey restrictions on southern African states previously week, Africans confronted new journey restrictions from elsewhere due to the rising infections. Starting Saturday, the United Arab Emirates is suspending entry for vacationers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, and impose extra necessities for these touring from Ghana and Uganda.

“We’re sadly going to be celebrating the end-of-the-year vacation season in the midst of the fourth wave that’s sweeping throughout the continent,” Dr. John N. Nkengasong, the pinnacle of the Africa Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention, mentioned at a information convention on Thursday.

A minimum of 21 African international locations are actually experiencing a fourth wave of the pandemic, in line with the Africa C.D.C. Three international locations — Algeria, Kenya and Mauritius — are present process a fifth one.

Circumstances have greater than doubled in latest weeks in nations together with Botswana, Nigeria, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Positivity charges have soared, too: Malawi reported a 46.29 p.c positivity price on Thursday in contrast with only a 1.54 p.c price on Nov. 30. Infections are surging amongst younger folks in Uganda, with some epidemiologists attributing that to youthful age teams being essentially the most lively in the course of the vacation season.

Omicron is tearing by means of Africa, with 22 nations now reporting the variant. It isn’t identified whether or not the extremely contagious variant is the dominant one or the one driving the surge of infections throughout Africa. However well being specialists say that even in international locations the place genomic sequencing will not be available, the sudden bump in circumstances may level to the unfold of the Omicron variant.

And specialists say general Covid infections in Africa are seemingly increased given the dearth of widespread testing in lots of international locations.

Early knowledge from South Africa this previous week advised that the nation’s Omicron wave might have peaked, with officials ending tracing efforts and scrapping isolation for people who were possibly exposed but not experiencing symptoms. Another study showed that people diagnosed with Omicron in South Africa were less likely to be hospitalized than those with previous variants like Delta.

But Dr. Nkengasong warned that the data from South Africa might not hold for other countries, because the population there is relatively young and the vaccination rate is high compared with that of many other African countries.

“Let’s be careful not to extrapolate what we are seeing in South Africa across the continent or across the world,” he said.

In hospitals in many African cities, doctors are reporting more infections.

Tinashe Gede, an immunologist who works at the public Parirenyatwa General Hospital in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, said he had seen an increase in admissions, but without the need for ventilators and life-support machines. A significant number of new cases he has treated have been breakthrough infections, he said, but symptoms have not been severe.

Health workers are getting sick, too.

At least 436 health workers tested positive last week at Dr. Gede’s hospital, according to Linos Dhire, the hospital’s spokesman.

Dr. Nelly Bosire, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Nairobi, said she had to call 10 pediatricians to find one to attend to a newborn on a recent night. Eight of them, she said, were either coughing, in isolation or had a confirmed Covid diagnosis. The virus, she said, was spreading like “wildfire.”

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, said she was still “cautiously optimistic” that severe illness and deaths will remain low in the fourth wave.

But slow vaccine rollouts might hamper those prospects, she added, given that only six African countries have hit the target set by the W.H.O. of fully vaccinating 40 percent of their population.

Even as vaccine supplies arrive, many African countries continue to face challenges getting them into people’s arms. It is difficult to deliver the vaccines to rural areas and to find enough temperature-controlled storage. Vaccine skepticism plays a role, too; Dr. Nkengasong said that about 20 percent of Africans remained hesitant to get vaccinated.

In Kenya, vaccine rollouts are hampered because health officials have not launched nationwide campaigns to convince their population of the benefits of Covid vaccines, said Anand Madhvani, the Covid Kenya network coordinator.

For now, governments are racing to institute a motley of guidelines to curb the contemporary wave of infections. Rwanda reimposed an evening curfew and suspended concert events. A number of nations, together with Botswana, Ghana and Malawi, have launched vaccine mandates concentrating on native populations or incoming vacationers.

On Wednesday, Kenya’s well being ministry mentioned it could bar unvaccinated folks from public areas, though a courtroom lately halted the vaccine mandate. By Friday, some malls within the capital, Nairobi, had began asking customers and staff to point out proof of vaccination.

The spike in circumstances and the following restrictions are upending vacation plans for these like Denis Munjanja, a businessman in Harare who acquired sick with Covid final 12 months. Mr. Munjanja mentioned he was afraid of contracting the virus once more, and he and his household have determined to remain indoors in the course of the vacation season as an alternative of blending with family members.

Nearly two years right into a pandemic, he mentioned, this wasn’t the festive temper he had hoped for. However he mentioned, “We simply need to be additional cautious.”

Abdi Latif Dahir reported from Nairobi, and Jeffrey Moyo from Harare, Zimbabwe. Lynsey Chutel contributed reporting from Johannesburg.

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