Health officials in Africa have warned that the Covid-19 virus is gaining strength on the continent, with cases rising by more than 20% week-on-week in nearly two dozen countries as the vaccination rate remains woefully low.

Speaking on Thursday, Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa, warned that cases numbers were rising concerningly fast, with cases on the continent up by 30% in the past week, and nearly two dozen countries registering at least a 20% rise.

“Africa is in the midst of a full blown third wave… We’ve seen in India and elsewhere how quickly Covid-19 can rebound and overwhelm health systems,” Moeti stated. She added that deaths are up 15% and that five countries – South Africa, Tunisia, Zambia, Uganda and Namibia – account for three-quarters of the new cases.

Speaking at a separate news conference on Thursday, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention chief John Nkengasong warned that only 0.79% of the continent’s 1.3 billion people are vaccinated. 

Four African nations are yet to start their vaccination campaign, although the WHO said that Tanzania plans to request to join the COVAX global vaccine-sharing facility.

Both Moeti and Nkengasong also noted that countries which were vaccinating at a good pace were in danger of running out of stocks.

The continent is yet to experience an emergency in the same way that other parts of the world have to date in the pandemic, although some outlying data suggest that the virus may be more prevalent than the poor Covid testing capacity implies.

In May it was announced that around 5% of lawmakers in the Democratic Republic of Congo had died from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. The figure suggests that there may have been more virus cases than the 31,000 the country claimed to have registered at the time, given the known fatality rate of the virus. 

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