Officials say 60% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to achieve continentwide herd immunity. But, with cases surging, governments are scrambling to secure enough supplies.
More than 5,400 deaths from COVID-19 have been recorded across the continent over the past week, an increase of 21%, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The surge in deaths and case numbers is worrying governments and international stakeholders, especially after a more infectious variant of the virus was identified in South Africa.
To date, Africa has recorded more than 3.3 million COVID-19 cases and over 80,000 deaths. Experts warn that the lack of testing and the difficulty in obtaining reliable data from many African countries probably means that the case numbers and death toll are much higher. South Africa, for example, is carrying out ten times more tests per capita than Nigeria.
Zimbabwe is among several countries on the continent seeing a significant increase in cases.
More than half the country’s 28,675 total and 825 deaths were recorded since the start of January.
On Wednesday, Zimbabwe’s government announced that Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo had died after contracting COVID-19.
Another cabinet minister, agriculture minister Perrance Shiri, died of the virus last July.
How are African nations reacting to the surge in cases?
Malawi has declared a state of disaster. President Lazarus Chakwera announced new lockdown measures, including the shutting of schools for the next three weeks and a nightly curfew.
Two members of his cabinet, Transport Minister Sidik Mia and Local Government Minister Lingson Berekanyama, died last Tuesday after contracting the infection.
The government of South Africa, one of the continent’s wealthiest nations, has come under heavy domestic criticism for failing to start vaccinating yet.
The country has recorded more than 37,000 virus-related deaths and 1.3 million infections. So far, it has secured about 30 million vaccines to be delivered in coming months.
Preparations to counter the surge are underway in Nigeria, where state governors have been holding meetings to coordinate COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
The continent’s most populous country of 200 million inhabitants has over 110,000 officially confirmed cases with 1,435 deaths — although these figures should be treated with caution as Nigeria is carrying out relatively few tests per capita.