COVID-19: Africa’s Death Toll Surpasses 100,000

Africa is battling a second wave of the pandemic but experts believe the continent’s death might be higher than reported.  Michele Spatari / AFP

 

Africa on Thursday recorded more than 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, a grim milestone likely to understate the real toll, as the continent of 1.2 billion people battles a second wave of infections.

The 54 countries in the region have a death toll of 100,000 from 3,793,660 reported cases, according to an AFP tally.

The continent, relatively spared by the pandemic, is the last except Oceania to reach the threshold of 100,000 deaths, which Europe crossed in April 2020.

South Africa — the worst hit African country — rolled out a mass testing campaign at the start of the pandemic.

To date, the country has recorded nearly 1.5 million cases and more than 48,000 deaths.

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But those figures, based on daily reports communicated by health authorities, only reflect a fraction of the actual case load, health specialists say.

“The cases are clearly under-reported because of poor access to healthcare facilities and under-reporting of milder cases,” South African virologist Barry Schoub, also a member of the Scientific Council at the South African Ministry of Health told AFP.

Understaffed health facilities and lack of means have meant many African countries have been unable to do mass testing.

“Many countries have mainly PCR tests in the capitals. And the further one moves away from the urban centres, the less there are tests,” explained French epidemiologist Emmanuel Baron from Doctors Without Borders.

“It is a disease that can go unnoticed with asymptomatic patients, or with symptoms that can be confused with others,” he added.

– Covid found in pawpaw –
In Zimbabwe, a country with a devastated economy and mismanaged health system, hospitals are filled with Covid patients, exhausted doctors and overwhelmed nurses. But the official number of cases remains low.

Tanzania stopped testing in May 2020 after claiming it had found a positive Covid case in a pawpaw, a quail and even a goat. The Tanzanian government last released official figures in April.

“If someone had told me a year ago that we, as a continent, would see 100,000 deaths from this infection, I probably would not have believed it,” John Nkengasong, the Africa Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), told reporters on Thursday.

The toll in Africa is, however, significantly lower than in Europe, the world’s most affected region, with 818,912 deaths recorded so far. The other regions that are badly hit are Latin America with 649,006 deaths and the United States and Canada 512,295 deaths.

After a sharp increase in January, Africa’s figures have fallen sharply in the past few weeks. Over the last seven days, the continent recorded 3,054 deaths, a drop of 18 percent from the previous week.

At the height of the pandemic in January, the continent had 906 deaths per day.

– No disaster –
While coronavirus figures are clearly underestimated, “we have not seen a health disaster in Africa to date”, said Baron.

Several studies on antibodies, which make it possible to detect whether a person who is recovered has previously been exposed to the virus, are underway in many African countries and should provide a better idea of the impact of the pandemic in the region.

South Africa, where almost all of the latest cases are attributed to a variant of the virus known to be more contagious and which has spread widely, represents nearly half of the deaths and reported cases on the continent.

The other African countries that are most affected are Egypt (10,150 deaths from 175,677 cases) and Morocco (8,524 deaths from 480,056 cases).

South Africa is also the country with most Covid-19 fatalities on the continent, counting 82 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, ahead of Tunisia (65 deaths) and Eswatini (55).

Lagging behind in the vaccination race, the continent’s leading industrial powerhouse administered its first vaccines on Wednesday.

Globally, Covid-19 has caused more than 109 million infections and over 2.4 million deaths since the start of the epidemic in Wuhan in China in December 2019.

AFP

Africa Records Higher Death Rates During Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’

File photo: A hospital worker puts on gloves as part of her Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the COVID-19 ward at the Somerset Hospital in Cape Town, on July 2, 2020. – This hospital is dealing with COVID-19 coronavirus positive patients as part of South Africa’s fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, which is gaining ground in the country. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

 

Health systems in Africa hobbled by shortages of oxygen and other resources are struggling with coronavirus’ “second wave,” pushing the fatality rate above the global average, the continent’s health watchdog said Thursday.

Africa has so far recorded around 3.3 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 82,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

These figures represent small fractions of the global totals, but cases have increased by an average of 14 percent each week for the past month.

Africa CDC director John Nkengasong told a press conference Thursday that the continent-wide case fatality rate was now 2.5 percent — above the global average of 2.2 percent.

That is a break from earlier in the pandemic, when death rates on the continent were on average lower than the rest of the world, Nkengasong said.

“During the second wave we are beginning to see that reverse. So I think that is one of the remarkable characteristics of the second wave, which we must fight hard,” Nkengasong said.

A total of 21 African countries have so far recorded death rates higher than 2.2 percent, Nkengasong said.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in Western Sahara — an African Union member state — has a death rate of 11.8 percent, followed by Sudan at 6.2 percent, Egypt at 5.5 percent, Liberia at 4.4 percent and Mali at four percent.

Nkengasong explained this by noting that rising cases were stretching health systems.

“That also means you’re overwhelming the ability of nurses, doctors to manage patients. Because of that there will be inadequate attention and care… to patients because we have limited beds, limited supplies.”

He also cited the need for more oxygen supplies, which he said was becoming “critical.”

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, health officials have described being forced to “decide which patients to manage and which not to manage,” Nkengasong said.

Last week the African Union announced it had secured 270 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, which will complement those secured via Covax, the globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort.

There are “ongoing talks” with Russia and China to potentially secure more doses, though “for now we don’t have any deals,” Nkengasong said Thursday.

Fact-Check: Did Obama Warn Africans Against Taking COVID-19 Vaccines?

 

A screenshot circulating on social networks since at least April 2020 claims that Barack Obama has urged Africans to reject Covid-19 vaccines.

This is false: AFP Fact Check found no official trace of any such statement by the former US president.

In a recent tweet, Obama said in fact that getting vaccinated against Covid-19 was “one of the most important things” to do.

“Barack Obama is asking Africans not to accept the vaccines that will come from America and Europe,” begins the caption of a post that resurfaced on Facebook in December 2020. The claim has been making the rounds online since at least April 2020.

READ ALSO: Bhutan Records First Coronavirus Death

It features an alleged quote by Obama saying he would be “an accomplice” if he didn’t denounce “this evil act white people want to do to Africans”. Referencing his Kenyan background, Obama purportedly said his African descent would not allow him to let “white people kill Africans with their toxic vaccine”.

 

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on December 31, 2020

 

A search using CrowdTangle – a social media monitoring tool – revealed the same claim was shared on Facebook here, here, here and here.

Similar posts circulated in French on Facebook (here and here for instance) as well as on Twitter (here, here and here).

The online claim re-emerged after Western countries started rolling out Covid-19 vaccines in December 2020, as AFP reported here.

No proof of quote

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago, Obama has spoken on several occasions about the novel coronavirus which has caused the death of more than 1.84 million people including nearly 400,000 in the United States as of January 4, 2020.

However, there is no official evidence that Obama encouraged Africans to refuse vaccination in any of his public speeches.

His spokesperson, Katie Hill, also denied that he had made the comments, according to the American news agency Associated Press (AP) in April, 2020.

“With COVID cases surging worse than ever, getting vaccinated is one of the most important things we can do,” Obama also said on his Twitter account on December 21, 2020.

Obama and other former US presidents including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton said they were ready to be vaccinated publicly. The 78-year-old president-elect, Joe Biden – who beat Donald Trump in the presidential race in November 2020 – received the Pfizer vaccine live on television on December 21, 2020.

US President-elect Joe Biden receives a Covid-19 vaccination at the Christiana Care hospital in Newark, Delaware (Alex Edelman / AFP)

 

The initial appearance of the false Obama quote coincided with the viral broadcast of an interview in April 2020 of two French doctors saying that vaccines should be tested in Africa.

Their comments sparked outcry in France and French-speaking African countries, with critics accusing the pair of wanting to use Africans as guinea pigs.

The belief that vaccines cause illness is commonly trumpeted by anti-vaxxers, who have falsely linked vaccines to plans to harm or even kill Africans and to secretly implant microchips into people’s bodies.

In a case similar to the Obama one, AFP Fact Check debunked false online posts in April 2020 that French microbiologist Didier Raoult had urged Africans “not to take the ‘Bill Gates’ vaccine”.

Another claim circulating in October 2020 showed a doctored image of a medic holding up a sign dissuading Africans to take the vaccines.

AFP Fact Check shone a spotlight on the issue of anti-vaccine sentiment in Africa in this analysis piece.

South Africa – the hardest-hit country on the continent with more than one million cases as of January 7, 2020 – announced that it had secured access to vaccines by entering the Covax program, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) mechanism for global vaccine distribution. The government hopes to start vaccinations in February.

Some African countries, like Madagascar, have been more wary. “We are not yet taking a position on the vaccine. In other words, we are not on the list of future beneficiary countries,” government spokeswoman Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy Andriatongariv said in late November 2020.

AFP

South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon, Other African Countries Confront A Second Wave Of COVID-19

Students do school work during a lesson at Albert Street Primary School, in Johannesburg CBD, on November 25, 2020. (Photo by LUCA SOLA / AFP)

 

After being relatively spared by coronavirus (COVID-19), Africa is bracing for the pandemic’s second wave, noting how the microbe has once more cut a swathe through rich countries in Europe and North Africa.

The continent’s most-hit nations are again having to contemplate stringent public health measures as they await the arrival of the vaccine cavalry.

In South Africa, the start of summer has triggered traffic jams on roads leading to coastal resorts.

But this year, there will be no long, lazy days spent on the beach.

In popular tourist destinations, the coronavirus is spreading at an alarming speed. Authorities have ordered partial closures, limits on the size of gatherings, and an extended curfew.

As the African country worst hit in the pandemic, with almost 900,000 documented cases, South Africa is tightening up health restrictions.

But around Africa, a continent of more than 1.2 billion people, there are stark contrasts in the prevalence of the disease.

New cases are emerging in East Africa, in northern and southern Africa, but the trend in West Africa is a decline, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), an arm of the African Union.

Rising cases in the east

In Uganda, every region has been affected by the pandemic. Neighbouring Rwanda, a far smaller but densely populated country, registered almost as many new cases in December (722) as since the beginning of infection (797).

Bars and nightclubs have been shut since March. Heavily fined for breaking regulations, the owner of a Kigali bar told AFP he had lost everything. “Clients were drinking, but the police forced us to close.”

In Kenya, a second wave of the virus struck in September and led to the closure of schools and the prolongation of a curfew. Some health professionals say they are already waiting for a third wave.

For several weeks, Africa CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been pressing African governments to up their game for an inevitable second wave.

Nevertheless, the epidemic first reported in Africa nine months ago has not been as destructive as experts feared, across a poor continent severely lacking in health care structures.

Africa has reported 2.4 million cases, just 3.6 percent of the world’s total, according to a tally compiled by AFP.

The whole continent has registered more than 57,000 deaths, fewer for instance than the total for France alone (59,072).

While the low level of screening might call into question the reliability of the statistics, no African country has observed a peak in excess mortality, which would be a sign of the virus spreading under the radar.

Experts are still trying to understand why Africa, so far, has not been affected to the same extent as other continents.

Explanations include Africa’s youthful population, cross-immunity derived from previous epidemics and a still predominantly rural economy, which means less density of population.

Economic hit

Early and draconian measures imposed on citizens in most African countries clearly put the brakes on the spread of the disease.

But the social and economic consequences of lockdown policies have been disastrous for the weakest economies.

In nations where the stigma of Covid-19 has become less visible, daily life has rushed to resume its course, largely at the expense of social distancing and other barrier gestures.

In central Africa, Cameroon is preparing to host the 2020 African Nations Championship football tournament in January, postponed from last April because of the virus. Officials are counting on a partial reopening of stadiums.

Authorities in Senegal face calls for public protests against restrictions, while in Equatorial Guinea, nightclubs are the only places that remain closed.

“Generally speaking, the virus is continuing to progress in Africa,” warned Isabelle Defourny, operations director at Medecins sans frontieres (Doctors Without Borders, MSF).

MSF has noted a resurgence of Covid-19 both in capital cities and in rural areas, notably in Chad.

“We’re also seeing an increase in severe cases where oxygen is needed, particularly in Bamako (Mali), which was not the case during the first wave,” Defourny said.

The battle Africa must wage for access to vaccines is far from won. The likely cost will be `around 4.7 billion euros ($5.76 billion), but only a quarter of the nations on the continent can muster the required resources, according to the WHO.

South Africa To ‘Cautiously’ Reopen Borders As Lockdown Eases

A boy wears a face mask as a preventive measure against the spred of the COVID-19 coronavirus as he queues outside Makro in Soweto, Johannesburg, on March 24, 2020. – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on March 23, 2020 announced a 21-day national lockdown to start later this week to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus which has affected more than 400 people and ordered the military to enforce the ban. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

 

South Africa will reopen its borders to most countries next month, the president said Wednesday, part of a wider easing of anti-coronavirus measures announced as figures continue to improve.

The continent’s most industrialised economy shuttered its borders at the start of a strict nationwide lockdown on March 27 to limit the spread of the virus.

Restrictions on movement and business have been gradually eased since June, but borders stayed sealed to avoid importing the virus from abroad.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday said most remaining rules will be rolled back from September 20, and that international travel would “gradually and cautiously” resume on October 1st.

“We have withstood the coronavirus storm,” Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation.

“It is time to move to what will become our new normal for as long as the coronavirus is with us.”

Under the new measures, most gatherings will be permitted at 50 percent of a venue’s capacity, with a cap of 250 people for indoor events.

A 10:00 pm curfew will be scaled back to midnight and a 50-person limit at recreational facilities will be lifted.

Restrictions on sporting events remain in place, however, and face-masks will still be required in public.

Travel may also be restricted to and from countries with “high infection rates”, Ramaphosa added, explaining that a list would be determined based on “latest scientific data… from those countries”.

– ‘Ready to open our doors’ –
South Africa has been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 651,000 infections and over 15,600 deaths recorded to date — around half the total number of cases detected on the continent.

The lockdown, one of the strictest in the world, dealt a severe blow to an already ailing economy and many livelihoods have been lost as a result.

Gross Domestic Product contracted 16.4 percent in the second quarter of 2020 due to the pandemic, and by more than half compared to the same period last year.

Tourism, one of the country’s main economic drivers, has been particularly affected.

“Our economy and society have suffered great devastation,” Ramaphosa said.

“It is now time to remove as many of the remaining restrictions… as it is reasonably safe to do so.”

The president said the country had “succeeded in overcoming the worst” of its outbreak.

He noted that the number of new cases had dropped from an average of 12,000 per day at “the height of the storm” in July to fewer than 2,000.

South Africa will start by reopening its three main airports in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

Travellers will be either be required to present a negative Covid-19 test result taken less than 72 hours prior, or quarantine at their own cost.

All will be screened upon arrival and asked to install a coronavirus tracing app on their mobile phone.

“We are ready to open our doors again to the world,” Ramaphosa said. “And invite travellers to enjoy our mountains, our beaches, our vibrant cities and our wildlife game parks in safety and confidence.”

Concern Over South Africa Coronavirus Toll After Rise In Natural Deaths

People stand in a street of a high density migrants area in the Johannesbrg city center, on May 10, 2020. (Photo by Luca Sola / AFP)

 

 

South Africa has recorded a jump of nearly 60 percent in overall numbers of natural deaths in recent weeks, suggesting a much higher toll of coronavirus-related fatalities than officially reported.

“In the past weeks, the numbers have shown a relentless increase – by the second week of July, there were 59% more deaths from natural causes than would have been expected based on historical data,” the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) said in a report released late Wednesday.

The report by the council, which is government-funded but an independent unit, came as the health ministry announced a record increase of 572 coronavirus deaths over the previous 24 hours.

The author of the report, Professor Debbie Bradshaw, said “the weekly death reports have revealed a huge discrepancy between the country’s confirmed COVID-19 deaths and number of excess natural deaths”.

South Africa is the worst-affected country in Africa and among the top five in the world in terms of confirmed cases, with 394,948 infections reported to date including 5,940 deaths.

The mortality rate has remained low, however, at around 1.5 percent on Wednesday, according to the health ministry’s daily updates.

The SAMRC is charged with conducting research on disease trends and identifying the main causes of deaths in the country.

“The SAMRC has been tracking mortality for decades in South Africa, and this system has identified excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 epidemic,” said the council’s CEO professor Glenda Gray.

“These may be attributed to both COVID-19 deaths as well non-COVID-19 due to other diseases such as TB, HIV and non-communicable diseases, as health services are re-orientated to support this health crisis,” she said.

Almost Half Of Africa’s COVID-19 Cases Have Fully Recovered

A patient who is suspected of suffering from COVID-19 coronavirus undergoes testing at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital isolation centre on May 10, 2020. Audu MARTE / AFP
File: A patient who is suspected of suffering from COVID-19 coronavirus undergoes testing at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital isolation centre on May 10, 2020. Audu MARTE / AFP

 

Almost half of Africa’s COVID-19 cases have recovered from the disease, according to the Africa Centre for Disease Control (ACDC).

Before now, there were fears that Africa will not be able to cope with the contagion which many felt will overwhelm the continent’s health systems.

But data from the ACDC shows that out of the 433, 500 cases of the virus in Africa as of  Friday, 3rd June, 208, 400 of them have fully recovered and discharged.

Since the first case of COVID-19 in the continent in February,  southern Africa has the highest number of recoveries –  84, 697 – from 174, 327 infections.

Western Africa has 79,274 cases out of which 44,390 have recovered while eastern Africa takes the last position in recovery rates on the continent – 18, 351.

The agency in a report published on its website, said there were 10,680 new COVID-19 recoveries in Africa on July 2nd,  a majority of them – 6,061 – from southern Africa.

africa-cdc
Southern Africa is the worst-hit by COVID-19 on the continent. Photo:[email protected] CDC

 

On the flip side, however, 10, 658 persons have died from the disease with a greater number – 4, 481 – of them reported in northern Africa.

Western Africa has 1, 366 deaths from the virus, according to the latest data from the Africa CDC.

Heart Of Africa

On Thursday, Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria crossed the 27, 000 mark as the country reported 626 new COVID-19 infections.

This is according to a tweet on the official handle of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

COVID-19 UPDATE IN NIGERIA Map 2nd July 2020
Lagos is Nigeria’s COVID-19 epicentre. Channels TV/Benjamin Oluwatoyin Kehinde.

 

Giving a breakdown of the new cases, the agency said they were recorded in 20 states in the West African country, bringing the total infections to 27,110.

US ‘Worst-Hit’

At least 10,887,320 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, about 5,585,100 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.

Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases.

The United States is the worst-hit country with 128,740 deaths from 2,739,879 cases. At least 781,970 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 61,884 deaths from 1,496,858 cases, the United Kingdom with 43,995 deaths from 283,757 cases, Italy with 34,818 deaths from 240,961 cases, and France with 29,875 deaths from 202,785 cases.

The UK case figures have been revised down from the 313,483 reported previously after the authorities changed their counting method.

China — excluding Hong Kong and Macau — has to date declared 83,542 cases (5 new since Thursday), including 4,634 deaths and 78,499 recoveries.

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