YAOUNDE, Cameroon

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Africa office on Wednesday called on African countries to boost surveillance as new coronavirus variants emerge.

In a statement, WHO Africa said African countries should also boost analysis through the African genome sequencing laboratory network to detect any new mutations and strengthen the efforts to curb the pandemic.

In September, the WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) launched a network of laboratories to reinforce genome sequencing of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in Africa.

The statement said new variants emerged as coronavirus infections are on the rise in the 47 countries in the WHO African region, nearly reaching the peak seen in July.

South Africa recently detected a new virus variant which, according to WHO, appears to transmit more easily and is likely linked to the ongoing surge of COVID-19 infections in the country.

Nigeria is also carrying out investigations on a variant identified in samples collected in August and October, according to the statement.

“The emergence of new COVID-19 variants is common. However, those with higher speed of transmission or potentially increased pathogenicity are very concerning. Crucial investigations are underway to comprehensively understand the behaviour of the new mutant virus and steer response accordingly,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

“While surveillance and detection of COVID-19 are critical components of the response to the pandemic, public health measures such as handwashing, physical distancing and wearing of masks also remain key to limiting infection,” Moeti said

“The current preventive measures are effective even on the new SARS-CoV-2 variants.”

In the past 28 days, Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda have reported the highest number of new virus cases, accounting for 90% of all the infections in the region, according to WHO.

There are nearly 2.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases on the African continent — with more than 2.2 million recoveries and more than 64,000 deaths, according to latest figures from Africa CDC.​​​​​​​

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