The B.1.351 variant of the coronavirus, first found in South Africa, is spreading in 23 African countries, the World Health Organisation has said.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Punch, the WHO Regional Virologist, Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, noted that the strain presented the same symptoms such as fever, cough, headache, and breathing difficulty, among others, regular with the original COVID-19.
Gumede-Moeletsi also listed the affected Africa countries to include Kenya, Cameroon, Cote D’ ívoire, Malawi, Mauritius, Togo, Botswana, Comoros, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Ghana, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Seychelles and Tanzania.
The Nigerian Medical Association and health experts have, however, called for caution among Nigerians and the Federal Government as the strain hit neighbouring countries.
She said, “The symptoms for any variant or even the original coronavirus are still the same; cough, headache, fever, etc. They are still the same as we know from the beginning of the pandemic.’’
Gumede-Moeletsi noted that social distancing, hand washing and wearing of face masks were recommended as preventive measures to curb the spread of the variant in the affected countries.
“The cases have decreased in South Africa. It indicates that the country has managed to contain the virus. There is a decrease in the number of hospitalisations and severe cases. The country is doing a tremendous job in controlling the spread of this particular strain.’’
Earlier, The WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said during a virtual press conference during the week facilitated by the APO Group that new variants placed the continent at risk of a third wave.
He said, “The B.1.617 variant that was first found in India has been reported in at least one African country. The B.1.351 strain, first found in South Africa, is spreading in 23 African countries and the B1.1.7 strain, first found in the United Kingdom, has been found in 20 countries.
“With new variants circulating, low vaccination levels, population fatigue in adhering to preventive measures, and easing of restrictions, the conditions are present for a resurgence. The tragedy in India does not have to happen in Africa, but we must all be on the highest possible alert. Governments must maintain strong surveillance and detection systems, reassess and bolster their treatment capacities, step up the supply of critical medicines, including medical oxygen and ensure there are enough beds for severely ill patients.”