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Experts believe that the emergence of new variants of the coronavirus in Africa has contributed to an increase in reported cases and deaths in many countries on the continent.
There are also concerns that these variants may not be easily followed because the tests necessary to identify them are not widely available.
What happens with the variants?
Most countries on the continent have experienced a second wave of the pandemic and some, such as Kenya, Egypt and Tunisia, have experienced a third wave.
This new wave of infections would be associated with the emergence of more transmissible variants.
A new variant of the virus emerged in South Africa last year and contributed to a record number of cases in the southern African region, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Elsewhere in Africa, this variant has also been recorded in Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Comoros, DR Congo, eSwatini, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique , Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
It is highly likely that it has reached other countries on the continent, but few have the capacity to perform the specialized genomic sequencing needed to detect the coronavirus variants.
In Nigeria, scientists have also identified a new variant of the virus, although there is currently no evidence that it contributes to increased transmission.
The variant was identified in a sample taken in late November from a patient in Lagos state and has been detected in four other states in the country.
WHO and the African Centers for Disease Control launched a network of laboratories last year in an attempt to strengthen the continent’s capacity to identify these variants.
He said the emergence of new, more contagious variants “has reinforced the need to step up genomic surveillance.”
However, a recent article in The Lancet pointed out that while efforts were underway to expand this work, there were funding issues, as well as shortages of reagents and staff with the right skills.
What happens to the case numbers?
Over the past month, new cases across the continent have increased by 2%, according to the CDC.
However, the number of deaths fell by 2%.
New cases have increased in North and East Africa (in countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Libya and Tunisia), but have fallen in South and West Africa.
Click here to see the interactive BBC
The rate has remained largely the same in Central Africa.
“Africa is not out of the woods yet and complacency is not an option at the moment,” says WHO Africa office immunization officer Richard Mihigo.
Most countries have launched vaccination campaigns against Covid-19, but there are still a few countries to deploy or even acquire vaccines.
And many countries have focused on priority groups such as health workers in the initial immunization phase.
Death rates have increased
During the first phase of the pandemic, Africa’s overall death rate – the proportion of people with Covid who then die – was lower than elsewhere in the world.
A number of theories have been put forward as to why this could be the case, such as the relatively younger population and possible cross-immunity against other coronaviruses.
But the Africa CDC has now warned of rising death rates on the continent, saying that of the 55 countries they monitor, 21 are now reporting death rates above the current global average of 2.2%. .
The death rate for Africa has climbed since July last year, when it averaged 2.1% – to 2.7% in April this year (measured over the duration of the pandemic) .
WHO says death rate continues to rise with most recent data from last month of 3.7%
The global death rate has fallen since the start of the pandemic, which in itself would put more African countries above the global average.
And death rates are also affected by the amount of testing done – a country with low levels of testing will show a higher death rate because many non-fatal Covid cases go undetected.
Click here to see the interactive BBC
Most importantly, death data should be treated with caution, given the wide variations in how countries record them.
In South Africa, research on excessive deaths – that is the number of deaths over a certain period above what would normally be expected – shows that there were 153,668 additional deaths between the 6 May of last year and April 10 of this year.
The official Covid-19 toll since the start of the pandemic is just over 53,000.
And South Africa was just one of eight countries on the continent that the BBC found in a recent investigation to have adequate death registration systems.
Thus, coronavirus deaths across Africa as a whole are likely under-recorded.
There are large variations in testing rates and while some countries have reduced testing others have maintained or even increased them at different times during the pandemic.
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