East Africa

Covid-19: Alarm as infections rise in East Africa

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By JONATHAN KAMOGA


Numbers of Covid-19 cases are rising again in East Africa even as countries bank on vaccinations to prevent another round of restrictions.

Over the past one month, Kenya’s positivity rate has risen from zero to more than five percent, the level which the World Health Organisation (WHO) often considers threatening.

Kenya recorded a positivity rate of 7.2 percent on Thursday, the highest in four months. And the average positivity rate in the past seven days is 5.7 per cent.

More people have in recent days been showing up for testing and the highest was 3,317 people out of which 218 tested positive for the disease.

So far, government officials say the new wave is mild and may lead to less hospitalisation compared to previous waves. As of June 8, only eight people were hospitalised in different facilities in the country. No patient is currently in either the intensive care or high dependency units. Around 1,239 patients are in home-based care.

The experts also attribute this new wave to the change in weather as the country is experiencing a cold season as well as the BA.2 sub variant, which is more infectious than Omicron.

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Even as numbers are rising, Kenyans have dropped their guard and are not adhering to public health measures.

The Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe in March lifted the mask-wearing mandate, citing low positivity rates that had dropped to 0.1 per cent.

But after the new figures, Health Permanent Secretary Susan Mochache and other ministry officials are asking Kenyans to resume wearing masks in confined public spaces.

About 30 percent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated, which is below the 70 percent target set by the African Union.

The situation is no different in Tanzania, which registered a 137 percent increase of Covid-19 cases in a month.

Tanzania’s Health ministry said that while it recorded 68 cases between April and May, the number rose to 161 new cases from May 5 to June 4, representing a surge beyond 100 percent. No deaths have occurred, however.

The infections have hit Dar es Salaam most, which had 130 cases, followed by Arusha with 10 cases and Mwanza with five cases.

Uganda surge

This week, Uganda’s Health ministry announced an increase in new infections and urged the public to return to earlier measures like wearing of face masks, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and hand washing.

The country’s Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng said Uganda has no indication of travel restrictions or lockdowns, but will instead push for mass vaccination, especially for vulnerable groups.

Uganda has moved from recording zero daily new infections to an average of 50, with most of them coming from the populous central Uganda districts of Kampala and Wakiso.

On Wednesday for example, the country recorded 58 new cases, the highest in the last several months.

“This increase is similar to the rise we faced in June 2021 when the Delta variant was prevalent,” Dr Aceng said.

She noted that the Omicron variant is more prominent in the country and although it is often mild, it can cause severe disease and death for those with underlying risks.

During the state of the nation address on Tuesday, President Yoweri Museveni said he was worried about the new infections and possible transmissions, especially after the recently held Uganda Martyrs’ Day in which more than a million people gathered at Namugongo, near Kampala.

“People did not wear masks at Namugongo. They think, wrongly, that when you are in church, you don’t get sick. I am a bit worried about what I saw there,” he said.

The country, which has so far received over 40 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, has struggled to inoculate the biggest part of its population due to public apathy.

By Wednesday according to official data, 16 million people had received at least a single Covid-19 dose while 10 million were fully vaccinated. The original target was to inoculate at least 22 million people of the 42 million Ugandans by now.

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