COVID surges in Afghanistan, Africa stir more concerns

COVID surges in Afghanistan, Africa stir more concerns

Despite an overall decline in global COVID cases, fresh activity spikes are expanding to different parts of the world, with a crisis worsening in Afghanistan and cases rising sharply in a number of African countries.

In other developments, the United Kingdom today updated its assessment of the Delta (B1617.2) variant, which appears to be more transmissible than the Alpha (B117 variant), and potentially leading to more hospitalizations.

Hot spots shift to different nations

The US State Department today in a health alert urged Americans to leave Afghanistan, where cases and deaths have risen sharply, causing shortages in supplies, oxygen, and hospital beds for patients with and without COVID. It said US citizens have reported being denied hospital admission due to lack of space.

The country has reported record-high daily cases and recently closed all schools with the outbreak partly fueled by the Alpha variant, according to the Washington Post.

Elsewhere, cases in Africa rose again for the second week in a row, with eight countries reporting abrupt rises of over 30% over the past week, the head of the World Health Organization’s African regional office said today at a briefing.

Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, said South Africa is experiencing a sustained increase in cases, with Uganda seeing a 131% spike with clusters in schools, rising cases in health workers, and increased burden on intensive care units (ICUs). Angola and Namibia are also reporting surges.

She urged African nations to boost their ICU capacity to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, and Moeti also raised concerns about Africa falling behind the global pace of COVID vaccination.

“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Our priority is clear—it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19,” she said, adding that only 2% of the African population has received one dose, compared to 24% of the rest of the world.

Higher rate of Delta variant in UK

In updated assessments of variant activity, Public Health England (PHE) today said the Delta variant now makes up 61% of sequenced cases, and patterns show a substantially increased growth rate when compared to the Alpha variant. Also, secondary attack rates remain higher for Delta than for Alpha.

Regarding hospitalizations, early data from England and Scotland suggest an increased risk for Delta, but the findings need confirmation.

The PHE has reported reduced vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant that is more pronounced after one dose.

UK officials are closely watching how the Delta variant developments unfold, given that the country is slated to take its next major reopening step later this month. Other countries are also focusing on the UK’s Delta experience as a possible bell weather for what could happen with the spread of the variant elsewhere.

More global headlines

  • Indonesia’s official COVID count is likely to reflect a vast undercount, due to recent seroprevalence findings, epidemiologists from the country told Reuters. At the start of the year, the government seroprevalence estimate for the world’s fourth most populous country was 0.4%; however, results from the epidemiologists’ studies suggested 15% seroprevalence during the same time period.
  • Bahrain is recommending that high risk people who received China’s Sinopharm vaccine receive a third booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the Wall Street Journal, a sign of ongoing doubt about the vaccine’s effectiveness.
  • Concerns about safety continue to rattle preparations for the Tokyo Olympics, with mass volunteer resignations, partly due to COVID worries, and a top government infectious disease advisor warning that holding the games during a pandemic is “not normal,” according to the Washington Post. Shigeru Omi, MD, PhD, said organizers should scale the games down as much as possible and strengthen the management system.

The global total today climbed to 171,635,491 cases, with at least 3,689,382 deaths, according to the New York Times tracker.

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