Strict lockdowns were no longer the best way to contain COVID-19, Africa’s top public health official said on Thursday while praising South Africa for adopting that approach when responding to its latest infection wave driven by the Omicron variant.
“We are very encouraged with what we saw in South Africa during this period where they look at the data in terms of severity (of infections),” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told a news conference.
“The period where we are using severe lockdowns as a tool is over. We should actually be looking at how we use public health and social measures more carefully and in a balanced way as the vaccination increases.”
Around late November when South Africa alerted the world to Omicron, it experienced a surge in COVID-19 infections with new infections peaking in mid-December at an unprecedented rate.
Even as the government did not resort to strict restrictions as it did during previous infection waves, new cases have since fallen back.
Nkengasong added that he feared that COVID-19 could become endemic on the continent given the slow pace of vaccination – a prospect many global scientists already talk of as a given.
“Unless … by the end of this year the continent actually scales up its vaccination to above 70% or 80%, my worry is that we might … be into a scenario where COVID becomes endemic,” he said.
Over the last 4 weeks, there has been a 36% average rise in new cases reported in Africa, with an 8% average rise in new deaths.
The latest Africa CDC figures show that less than 10% of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated against the virus experts believe cannot be eliminated and will likely become endemic. Meaning it will always be present in the population to some degree, such as the flu or chickenpox.