by Toby Green
Thursday, 24
June 2021
Factcheck
10:34

There is no Covid third wave in Africa

Alarmist reporting is getting basic facts wrong
by Toby Green
Photo by Alaattin Dogru/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

The last few days have seen an avalanche of reports that a third wave of Covid-19 is underway in Africa. Seasoned coronavirus watchers will not be surprised that the alarm was raised in Geneva. WHO Central issued alarming press releases on June 7th and 17th, with the Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, stating in the latter that “Africa is in the midst of a full-blown third wave”. So what’s happening?

Since the June 7th press release, there have been 1,651 new deaths reported from Covid-19 across the entire continent in 17 days, less than 100 per day. In a continent where 9 million people die annually (roughly 25,000 per day), reported Covid deaths in this “full-blown” third wave thus currently account for roughly 0.4% of daily mortality in Africa. Certainly, there are mortality increases from Covid reported in some countries such as Cape Verde and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but they are not anything like on the scale of what has happened elsewhere.

Moreover, the vast majority of these fatalities have occurred in temperate zones: South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia account for 105,000 of the 139,500 deaths reported from Covid-19 across the continent.

Many of the reports on this “third wave” point to the failure to count deaths accurately, and suggest that these figures mask the true problem. Reports from the BBC and the New York Times  have pointed to a continent-wide lack of systemic mortality figures. But running at 0.4% of current mortality, and touching a small area of the continent as a whole, even if this was an underestimate by 1000%, Covid would still only be a minor concern to most Africans. In fact, a recent paper disputes these accusations of undercounting: the authors note that “while only 34.6% of countries [in Africa] have complete death registration data… all countries have a system in place, and there is no evidence that COVID-19 mortality data is less accurately reported in Africa than elsewhere”.

What certainly does go under-reported are cases. This is good news, as it indicates that much of the continent’s population has already developed antibodies to Covid-19 through mild infections. In a study from July to October 2020 of mineworkers tested in Ivory Coast, 25.1% had Covid antibodies; meanwhile, a February study in South Africa based on blood donors found antibody levels of 63% in Eastern Cape, 46% in Free State, and 52% in KwaZulu Natal, while a study from Cameroon just published found antibody levels of 32%. These figures far outstrip recorded cases, suggesting that many Africans already have protection from Covid.

However the WHO redefined herd immunity last year as only achievable through vaccination, so it may not want to publicise this. The Guardian last week added to the clamour, reporting on research that had not been peer-reviewed and which claimed that Covid infection did not provide immunity. Ironically, a series of studies published in Nature the week before had found that “the evidence thus far predicts that infection with SARS-CoV-2 induces long-term immunity in most individuals”.

The evidence from Africa is quite clear, in fact. Large sections of the population have now developed Covid antibodies, and death rates are low compared to other chronic illnesses. Herd immunity does not have to be achieved through vaccination, either in Africa or elsewhere. But none of these conclusions fit with the catastrophic decisions taken by global policy elites over the past year, so they won’t be coming to a television news channel near you any time soon.

Toby Green is the author of The Covid Consensus: The New Politics of Global Inequality (Hurst).

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Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
1 year ago

Gee, this reads like the author thinks the human immune system is effective in giving people…well…immunity. How are big pharma going to make billions off the taxpayers if such an idea gains credence? Next thing you know, scientists will be conducting serious trials on the effectiveness of Ivermectin on halting covid just because the case numbers have gone off a cliff wherever it’s used. I ask you, is that science?

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago

As far back as 2009, and the overhyped Swine Flu pandemic that never was, that saw governments ordering billions of pounds worth of vaccines that were proven to be unnecessary, we have known that big pharma and the WHO are in bed together. What changed after that scandal? Apparently they learned to be more careful and to get the MSN on board and also members of the science community dependent on corporate largesse. The WHO changing of the definition for herd immunity was a clever, if sly, move.
John Snow called the swine flu scandal, the crime of the century. What words will be applied to this one? For a scandal there is.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9qeLcq3y8w

Last edited 1 year ago by Glyn Reed
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago

That would be great news. If we can trust it. But – no offence – Toby Green shows quite clearly in his choice of words that he is a committed member of the anti-lockdown faction – which makes this an opinion piece quite as much as an informational one. If indeed “The evidence from Africa is quite clear”, that would be exceptional, for COVID epidemics.

Do we have any source for this that can be relied on to follow data over opinion?

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Why? It’s possible to be both accurately informed and have an opinion, indeed, you’d hope one is a prerequisite for another 😉

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

For areas that are highly controversial and where conclusive data are scarce, people with strong opinions tend to find the data the confirm their opinion. Think of nature and nurture, differences between men and women, racial distribution of IQ, evolutionary psychology. This is where you want to hear from both sides, or from people who are reliably neutral – even those you agree with are likely to be biased.

I could try to follow his links, find those who think the opposite, and make a weighted comparison of their arguments – if I had time. Meanwhile I hope he is right, and maybe that someone with more balanced opinions could confirm this.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You are doing a great job ensuring that UNHERD does not become an echo chamber Rasmus !

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Toby provides no fewer than six links to sources in the article above, to back up his claims.
Meanwhile, at the risk of being placed in the anti-lockdown ‘faction’ (why this is a faction and why that should matter I don’t know), I would remind you that the economic cost of lockdown has meant significant cuts to foreign aid budgets:
Foreign aid: Aid cuts could see lives lost, warns senior Tory – BBC News
Which will almost certainly costs more lives in Africa than COVID itself, something fellow ‘faction’ member Sunetra Gupta has been warning about since the nearly the very beginning.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Rasmus, do you have the imagination to conceive of what lockdown does in Africa and other poor countries? Let me explain: when there is no fat in the economy to disguise the damage that lockdowns cause, lockdown means no food on the table that night. The only people who will ultimately gain from lockdowns are the wealthy and a few lucky ones.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago

No one would argue that lockdowns are bad for all people anywhere who are not insulated with money-this debate is about the truth of the african covid scenario.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Morocco has seen about 8600 deaths in a population of 36 million. By July last year it was only 200, but lifting lockdown for Eid set the disease off again. Their vaccination rates are now very high. Of corse the age profile helped keep deaths low. But swift government action, free masks, etc, helped. It is a pity to conflate all of North Africa.