JOHANNESBURG – Africa now has more than a half-million confirmed coronavirus cases, while South Africa's health minister declared Wednesday that “we have now reached the surge.”
The continent-wide total is over 509,000, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after South Africa recorded another day of more than 10,000 confirmed cases as a new global hot spot. The country makes up 43% of Africa's cases.
The true number of cases among Africa’s 1.3 billion people is unknown as its 54 countries face a serious shortage of testing materials for the virus. “A tremendous problem, a real crisis of access,” the World Health Organization’s Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti, said last week.
So far most testing has been concentrated in capital cities, but infections in many cases have spread beyond them.
Already COVID-19 has killed more people in Africa — 11,955 — than Ebola did in its deadliest outbreak from 2014 to 2016 in West Africa, the WHO said Wednesday.
“With more than a third of countries in Africa doubling their cases over the past month, the threat of COVID-19 overwhelming fragile health systems on the continent is escalating,” Moeti said Wednesday.
“So far the continent has avoided disaster," she added. If countries can continue to improve testing, tracing and isolating, “we can slow down the spread of the virus to a manageable level.”
Africa’s health systems are the most poorly funded and thinly staffed in the world. Already more than 4,800 health workers have been infected by the virus in South Africa alone, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said Wednesday. Half of them are nurses.