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For seven consecutive weeks, cases have risen across the continent, according to WHO data. Infections climbed 20 percent in the seven days ending July 4 compared to the prior week, the agency said, adding that the African region also reported a sharp 23 percent increase in fatalities over the same period.
“Africa has just marked the continent’s most dire pandemic week ever, ” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a statement. “But the worst is yet to come as the fast-moving third wave continues to gain speed and new ground.”
Sixteen African countries are now experiencing a resurgence, including at least 10 where the delta variant has been detected. On Thursday, Nigeria announced its first confirmed delta case, detected in a traveler who the country’s Center for Disease Control said was tested on arrival.
Some of the most severe outbreaks are unfolding in countries in southern and eastern Africa, including Namibia, Uganda and Zambia. South Africa, the continent’s hardest-hit nation, recently reported the highest numbers of new infections and deaths, registering a 46 percent increase in fatalities from the virus in the week to July 4.
“The end to this precipitous rise is still weeks away,” Moeti said of the continent-wide surge. “Cases are doubling now every 18 days.”
Just over 1 percent of Africa’s roughly 1.3 billion people are fully inoculated, according to the WHO. And last month, amid a global supply crunch, shipments to the continent through the Covax initiative nearly ground to a halt.
“But there are signs of progress on vaccine deliveries,” the WHO said this week.
UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, announced Thursday that it signed an agreement to supply the African Union with up to 220 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine by the end of 2022.
Those doses would supplement other vaccine deliveries arriving through Covax, the U.N.-backed initiative seeking the equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines worldwide.
Katerina Ang in Seoul contributed to this report.