JOHANNESBURG/NAIROBI/DAKAR (Reuters) - Africa is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 infections, largely driven by a doubling in cases reported in South Africa, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, urging people across the continent to continue to get vaccinated.
Africa had been experiencing a lull in COVID cases, with the WHO earlier this month pointing to the longest-running decline in weekly infections on the continent since the start of the pandemic.
But last week cases started to pick up in South Africa - the country that has recorded the most infections and deaths in Africa to date - and health authorities there are monitoring for signs of a fifth infection wave.
"This week new COVID-19 cases and deaths on the continent increased for the first time after a decline of more than two months for cases and one month for deaths," Benido Impouma, director for communicable and non-communicable diseases at the WHO's Africa office, told an online news conference.
Impouma said there was no evidence as yet to suggest the rise in cases was linked to any new sublineages or a new coronavirus variant.
Helen Rees, executive director of the University of the Witwatersrand's Reproductive Health and HIV Institute in Johannesburg, told the same news conference that an increasing share of South Africa's COVID cases were the BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages of the Omicron variant.
In a preprint published this week, South African researchers report that the spike proteins of BA.4 and BA.5 are identical to each other, and differ from the Omicron BA.2 variant by four mutations. Together, BA.4 and BA.5 had begun displacing BA.2 by early April, at which point they made up 50% of samples.
But she said the country had so far not seen a huge increase in mortality or intensive care admissions.
Separately, the WHO also said on Thursday that Africa was witnessing a surge in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases including measles, polio and yellow fever.
"The rise in outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases is a warning sign. As Africa works hard to defeat COVID-19, we must not forget other health threats," WHO Africa director Matshidiso Moeti said in a statement.
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