Botswana to start COVID-19 vaccine booster jab

By XINHUA

A man receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination site in Gaborone, Botswana, October 12, 2021. (Xinhua)

Botswana will start offering booster shots of five different COVID-19 vaccines from Monday, Botswana’s Ministry of Health and Wellness announced in a statement.

Those who have received their last dose at least two months prior and ideally within six months of their original shot automatically qualify for booster shots of Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD and Sinovac, read the statement released Friday.

According to the statement, this follows the approval of the booster shots of all the five different COVID-19 vaccines by the southern African country’s medicinal regulator, Botswana Medicines Regulatory Authority (BoMRA).

Shirley Mukamambo, the principal public relations officer with Botswana’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, told Xinhua in a telephone interview Sunday that everyone who has been fully vaccinated “must get a booster dose of a vaccine which he or she was vaccinated with.”

“Booster doses are meant to increase immunity that in case one is infected by COVID-19 or variant must not suffer severe symptoms that may lead to hospitalization or death,” said Mukamambo.

Botswana has recorded 237,678 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 2,514 related deaths since the first detection of the pandemic in March 2020, according to the ministry.

By the end of December 2021, at least 1.03 million people of the country had been fully vaccinated, exceeding the targeted population, said Makumambo.

COVID-19 program delivers one billion doses to poorer countries

By AP

A shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility arrives in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Friday, Feb. 25, 2021. (AP Photo)

The World Health Organization said Sunday that a United Nations backed program shipping coronavirus vaccines to many poor countries has now delivered one billion doses, but that milestone “is only a reminder of the work that remains” after hoarding and stockpiling in rich countries.

A shipment of 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Rwanda on Saturday included the billionth dose supplied via the COVAX program, the UN health agency said.

WHO has long criticized the unequal distribution of vaccines and called for manufacturers and other countries to prioritize COVAX. It said that, as of Thursday, 36 of its 194 member countries had vaccinated less than 10% of their population and 88 had vaccinated less than 40%.

The program has made deliveries to 144 countries so far, “but the work that has gone into this milestone is only a reminder of the work that remains,” WHO said in a statement.“COVAX’s ambition was compromised by hoarding/stockpiling in rich countries, catastrophic outbreaks leading to borders and supply being locked,” it added. “And a lack of sharing of licenses, technology and know-how by pharmaceutical companies meant manufacturing capacity went unused.”

Zimbabwe extends national COVID-19 lockdown, delays opening of schools

By David Ochieng Mbewa

The Zimbabwean government extended the national lockdown in the country by a further two weeks and also delayed the opening of schools by a week as the country battles against a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a government notice, the one-week period is aimed at giving schools time to put in place preventive public health measures depending on the existing COVID-19 situation at that time.

FILE PHOTO: A student gets her temperature taken before entering a school in Harare, Zimbabwe. /Getty Images

Other measures in the notice include a directive that teachers and students must wear face masks while in class and teachers and students who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine should get the jab before schools open.

Authorities were also ordered to conduct regular inspections of learning institutions at least once a week to assess their compliance with the regulations.

Earlier this month, the government postponed the reopening of schools, with the exception of examination classes, due to a surge COVID-19 cases.

Zimbabwe has so far reported 225,637 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 20,993 recoveries and 5,238 deaths.

(Story compiled with assistance from wire reports)

WHO says slow vaccinations limit Africa’s chances of stopping the emergence of new COVID-19 variants

By Jerry Omondi

People line up to be tested for the new crown virus at the Windhoek Center in Namibia. /CFP

Africa’s chances of limiting the emergence and impact of new COVID-19 variants remain low as the continent continues to grapple with low vaccination numbers, according to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.

Moeti sounded the warning on Thursday at a media briefing on the continent’s COVID-19 situation.

“This year should mark a turning point in Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination drive. With vast swaths of the population still unvaccinated, our chances of limiting the emergence and impact of deadly variants are frighteningly slim,” said Dr. Moeti.

“We have the know-how and the tools and with a concerted push we can certainly tip the balance against the pandemic,” she added.

According to the WHO, more than 85 percent of people in Africa are yet to receive a single dose of COVID-19 vaccines and just around 10 percent of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated.

African countries form the majority of the 90 nations globally that have still not reached the WHO end-2021 target of vaccinating at least 40 percent of their populations.

The continent’s vaccination drive was hampered by the slow arrival of vaccine doses in the first half of last year. The latter half saw more batches arrive, but inoculation numbers remain much lower compared to other regions.

In her briefing, however, Dr Moeti pointed out that while Africa’s fourth pandemic wave is flattening, the continent still needs to continue with pandemic countermeasures.

So far, Africa has reported 10,066,092 COVID-19 infections with 231,445 fatalities, according to data from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over 15 million COVID-19 cases recorded worldwide last week: WHO

By Jerry Omondi

The World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

More than 15 million new COVID-19 infections were reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) last week, by far the most cases reported in a single week, the agency’s chief said on Wednesday.

Dr Tedros Adhanom made the announcement at a media briefing on COVID-19, during which he warned that the figure may still be an underestimate.

“This huge spike in infections is being driven by the Omicron variant, which is rapidly replacing Delta in almost all countries,” said Dr Tedros.

He however pointed out that the number of weekly reported deaths has remained stable since October last year, at an average of 48 thousand deaths a week, but he added that these were still too many deaths.

“But let’s be clear: while Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, it remains a dangerous virus, particularly for those who are unvaccinated,” the WHO chief asserted.

Dr Tedros urged the world not to let its guard down in the fight against the pandemic.

He took he opportunity to once again rally people to go take their COVID-19 vaccinations in order to better protect themselves from the disease.

Africa’s COVID-19 fatalities top 230,000

By Jerry Omondi

CFP Image

The number of COVID-19 deaths reported in Africa surpassed the 230,000 mark even as the continent continues its fight against the virus.

According to the latest data by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Africa had recorded 231,445 virus-related fatalities by Wednesday afternoon.

In total, the continent had registered 10,066,092 infections.

Most of the COVID-19 deaths have been reported in South Africa, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of the continent’s fatalities.

The country’s 92,649 total death toll is more than the cumulative tally recorded by the next seven countries with the highest national tolls.

The continent is banking on vaccinations to contain the pandemic, and various countries have ramped up mass inoculations to better protect their publics.

Despite experiencing a slow start to vaccinations, Africa boosted administration of jabs as more doses arrived in the second half of 2021.

COVID-19 boosters not a viable strategy, WHO experts say

By Jerry Omondi

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Gent Shkullaku via CFP)

The World Health Organization (WHO) experts said on Tuesday repeated COVID-19 boosters not a viable strategy against the pandemic.

The remarks come after some countries rolled out fourth booster doses for their populations in efforts to strengthen the vaccines’ efficacy.

Israel was the first country to roll out the fourth doses in late December.

Chile became the latest to introduce the extra doses on Monday, targeting everyone aged 55 years and older who is at least six months past their initial booster shot.

Despite the roll out of the extra doses however, their necessity has come under question.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Monday it is still too early to know if they’re at all necessary.

The WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom has been vocal against the rush to administer booster doses, especially as some low-income countries continue to struggle with vaccine acquisition.

The WHO chief last month pointed out that blanket COVID-19 vaccine booster programs could prolong the pandemic and increase inequity.

“No country can boost its way out of the pandemic,” he said in Geneva at his final press briefing for the 2021.

“And boosters cannot be seen as a ticket to go ahead with planned celebrations, without the need for other precautions,” he added.

WHO warns against treating COVID-19 like flu

By CGTN Africa

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the World Health Organization (WHO) is displayed at the headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 15, 2020. (Photo by Martial Trezzini/Keystone via CFP)

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday warned against treating COVID-19 as an endemic illness-like the flu, rather than as a pandemic, saying the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant has not yet stabilized.

According to Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, it may be time to change how it tracks COVID-19’s evolution to instead use a method similar to how it follows the flu because its lethality has fallen.

That would imply treating the virus as an “endemic illness”, rather than a pandemic.

“We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic,” WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, told a press briefing.

Zambia grapples with shortage of COVID-19 tests kits as cases surge

By XINHUA

Zambian Vice President Mutale Nalumango (L) is seen with a facemask on June 25, 2021. (Creative Commons Chaloni Zambia)

Health authorities in Zambia on Monday said the country was facing a challenge of availability of diagnostic tests kits for COVID-19 following a surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant.

“This is due to supply challenges due to the pandemic itself where we see increased global demand for the test and other supplies required for response,” the Minister of Health Sylvia Masebo told reporters during a COVID-19 update press briefing.

She said the situation has further been worsened by the country’s limited resource envelope, adding that widespread community transmission occurring in nearly all districts has led to an increased demand for testing.

According to her, the fourth wave has been characterized by the highest number of new infections ever recorded since the outbreak of the pandemic in the southern African nation in March 2020.

The government has since revised the testing criteria following the increased community transmission with priority given to people with severe symptoms, healthcare workers and people admitted to health facilities with various ailments, said the official, explaining this was a logical approach because one in every three Zambians was infected and the country had no capacity to conduct mass testing.

Zambia has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in the past month following the advent of the fourth wave mainly driven by the Omicron variant.

The country’s cumulative cases of COVID-19 now stand at 284,389 following 1,485 new cases reported in the past 24 hours. The new cases were picked from 5,389 sample tests done, representing a positivity rate of 28 percent.

On the other hand, the country discharged 3,389 patients during the same period, bringing the total recoveries to 255,320, while five people died, bringing the total deaths to 3,817.

The country’s cumulative active cases stand at 25,252, with 272 admitted in various isolation facilities, while 24,980 are placed under community management.

EU takes southern Africa off no-travel list

By AFP

The EU agreed on Monday to take southern African countries off its no-travel list./ CFP Image

The EU agreed on Monday to take southern African countries off its no-travel list, as Omicron cases in the European bloc soar, the French presidency of the European Union said.

Travelers coming from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will still have to show negative PCR tests taken no more than 72 hours earlier, in line with rules for most other countries.

“Member States have agreed this morning … to lift the emergency brake to allow air travel to resume with southern African countries,” the French presidency of the EU tweeted.

“Travelers from this area will still be subject to the health measures applicable to travelers from third countries.”

The EU’s “emergency brake” travel ban on the seven African countries was imposed on November 26, days after the more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus was first detected in southern Africa.

EU leaders have said the restriction was necessary to slow Omicron’s spread into Europe to give time for booster shots to be rolled out at an accelerated pace.

As of Monday, data plotted by Oxford University’s OurWorldinData project showed the latest COVID wave — exacerbated by Omicron — peaked three to four weeks ago in all the southern African countries except for Botswana, where reported cases were still rising.

In several EU countries, including Belgium, Denmark and France, Omicron has in the last couple of weeks become the dominant variant.

In most of the European Union, however, Delta is still the dominant variant but is quickly being supplanted by Omicron.

COVID cases overall are climbing swiftly across the bloc as it enters the coldest part of winter.

But hospitalizations and deaths from COVID are rising at a much-reduced pace, which is attributed to widespread vaccination and booster-shot programs.

There are still concerns, however, that national health systems in EU countries could become saturated as large numbers of people come down with Omicron, and that schools and workplaces could suffer.

Those concerns have prompted individual EU countries to impose stricter entry requirements for travelers coming in from outside the European Union.

Within the bloc, an EU Digital COVID certificate is used to facilitate travel, with an emphasis on vaccinations and boosters.