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BRAZZAVILLE: Africa has recorded a massive rise in Covid cases over the last week, but the number of deaths is lower than with previous waves, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

The 83-percent surge means however that the continent will not get 70 percent of people fully vaccinated -- considered essential to halt the pandemic -- until August 2024.

"We are cautiously optimistic that deaths and severe illness will remain low in the current wave," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Regional Director for Africa.

"But slow vaccine rollout in Africa means both will be much higher than they should be."

Low vaccination rates risk providing a breeding ground for new variants, such as the rapidly spreading Omicron strain, which was first identified in South Africa, said the latest updated from the WHO in Africa.

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And the surge in South Africa was particularly pronounced: the country recorded a 66-percent increase in cases over the past week compared with the previous seven days. For the moment however, deaths and critical cases remained low.

"We've known for quite some time now that new variants like Beta, Delta or Omicron could regularly emerge to spark new outbreaks globally, but vaccine-deprived regions like Africa will be especially vulnerable," said Moeti.

At the current rate, WHO estimates it will take until May 2022 to have 40-percent vaccination coverage in Africa and August 2024 to reach 70 percent, said the WHO-Africa statement.

"But we can still save many lives if we accelerate the pace of vaccination in early 2022," Moeti said.

As of 13 December, only 20 African countries had vaccinated at least 10 percent of their population -- the global target WHO had set for September 2021.

Only six countries have hit the year-end target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of their population, while only two -- Mauritius and Seychelles -- have reached 70 percent.

The latest surge across the continent was fuelled mainly by the Delta and Omicron variants.

Worldwide there have been more than 2,700 Omicron cases reported in 59 countries, including 11 African countries.

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