NAIROBI, Kenya — In the past three weeks alone, the percentage of Kenyans testing positive for coronavirus has risen from less than 1% to over 30% — the highest positivity rate in the country to date.
In Uganda, nearly 50 lawmakers and their aides, some of them vaccinated, tested positive this week after attending a sports tournament in neighboring Tanzania.
And in Zimbabwe, soaring infections have prompted the government to institute new restrictions on businesses and incoming travellers.
Across Africa, countries are reporting an increase in Covid cases, and health officials are worried about how the new Omicron variant will affect the world’s least vaccinated continent. Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa, remains highly infectious, but so far has caused fewer deaths and hospitalizations than previous variants such as Delta.
The latest wave comes as many African countries began to reopen and businesses hoped for a robust holiday season – only for governments to reintroduce curfews and quarantines and impose new vaccination mandates.
Even as Britain and the United States lifted travel restrictions linked to Omicron in southern African states last week, Africans have faced new travel restrictions from elsewhere due the increase in infections. From Saturday, the United Arab Emirates is suspend entry for travelers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, and imposing additional requirements for those traveling from Ghana and Uganda.
“We are unfortunately going to be celebrating the holiday season in the midst of the fourth wave sweeping the continent,” said Dr. John N. Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. , said Thursday at a press conference.
According to the Africa CDC, at least 21 African countries are currently experiencing a fourth wave of the pandemic. Three countries – Algeria, Kenya and Mauritius – suffer a fifth.
Omicron crosses Africa, with 22 countries now reporting the variant. It is unclear whether the highly contagious variant is the dominant variant or the one driving the spike in infections across Africa. But health experts say even in countries where genomic sequencing is not readily available, the sudden spike in cases could indicate the spread of the Omicron variant.
And experts say overall Covid infections in Africa are likely higher given the lack of widespread testing in many countries.
Abdi Latif Dahir reported from Nairobi, and Jeffrey Moyo from Harare, Zimbabwe. Lynsey Chutelcontributed reporting from Johannesburg.