Dr Michael Ryan, the emergencies chief at the WHO, said South Africa was in the midst of a ‘very severe event’ and that it could lead to other countries suffering.
Africa was not badly affected in the early stages of the pandemic but cases have begun to spike there and have now exceeded 579,000. Two weeks ago there had been 356,666 (July 5), a spike of around two thirds in a fortnight.
Now the WHO says the virus is ‘accelerating’ there and there are fears many countries poor or non-existent healthcare systems’ will simply crumble in the face of major outbreaks.
There had been a total of 579,091 cases diagnosed in Africa as of yesterday, according to the World Health Organization.
This is the second lowest of all continental regions – only the Western Pacific is lower – but cases are accelerating fast, experts say.
The number of coronavirus cases in Africa has surged since the start of June and World Health Organization chiefs are now worried about an ‘acceleration of disease’ on the continent
Dr Ryan told a virtual press conference: ‘I am very concerned right now that we are beginning to see an acceleration of disease in Africa.’
The American region is the one with the most coronavirus cases, according to the WHO’s daily reports, with 7,376,748 cases up to July 19.
And although Africa still ranks close to the bottom, a worsening situation in South Africa has global health chiefs concerned.
Over the weekend the number of people who have died there rose to more than 5,000 and there have been over 350,000 infections.
And Dr Ryan said what was happening there could be a warning sign of what is to come for the rest of the continent.
He said: ‘While South Africa is experiencing a very, very severe event, I think it is really a marker of what the continent could face if urgent action is not taken to provide further support.
‘South Africa may unfortunately be a precursor, it may be a warning for what will happen in the rest of Africa.’
Ryan pointed out that South Africa’s outbreak began earlier than those in a number of other African countries.
It had first spread in wealthier areas but had now moved to poorer and more rural areas, he said.
‘Therefore, South Africa is experiencing that acceleration,’ he said, stressing though that the acceleration was no faster than elsewhere on the continent.
While South Africa’s numbers were by far the largest, they had ‘only’ increased by 30 percent in the past week, he said.
By comparison, numbers in Kenya had increased by 31 percent, in Madagascar by 50 percent, in Zambia by 57 percent and in Namibia by 69 percent, he pointed out.
‘I think what we are starting to see is a continued acceleration of transmission in a number of countries,’ he said.
‘This isn’t just a wake-up call for South Africa… We need to take what is happening in Africa very, very seriously.’
South Africa now has the fifth most coronavirus cases of any country in the world and its health minister today said everyone must get healthcare if they need it.
Minister Zweli Mkhize told reporters that ‘there’s never going to be a time there’s pressure on any hospital’ and said the number of beds will be increased and private hospitals will help.
He visited a new field hospital in Johannesburg that is meant to hold patients who need less intensive care. Already it has 150 people in isolation, nine in quarantine and 20 on oxygen, the Gauteng provincial health department said.