COVID-19 Status in May 2021: Trends and Containment Implications in Africa

Published on 1st June 2021

Flattering and Fleeting Dreams in the Flood of Disasters

Systems are critical; dreams can be flattering. In the book “Atomic Habits”, James Clear has clearly put it right: You do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems. The dreams and national visions in Africa are among the most elaborate and inspiring, but recurrent disasters have been exposing the weaknesses of the systems in place. Law reforms have not done any better at delivering on visions. The root problem is systemic and requires a culture change in self-governance and country governance.

Potential and expressed disasters such as the recently repeated eruption of Mt. Nyiragongo less than two decades later, recurrent floods, earthquakes, locust invasion, landslides, the widening Rift Valley, solar storms, climate change, among others — all place an urgent demand on African governments to utilise the intellectual capital at their disposal to put up robust monitoring and early warning systems while developing predictive models to help steer away from the reactionary mode of disaster response which has become a malignant signature culture.

COVID-19 Cases Multiplied a Hundred Times in a Year

A year later, confirmed cases have multiplied a hundred times, making COVID-19 live up to its character once described in this series as a disruptive, distractive, destructive and distancing disease. For Africa, the ravaging effects of COVID-19 have made dimmed the visibility of other disasters that should be governed effectively through knowledge- and technology-led interventions. It must not be so. Again, the key lessons from COVID-19 instruct us that it must not be so anymore. Similarly, the current disaster governance culture should change a hundred times over.

Key Highlights

Africa has been claiming 3.7% of the global COVID-19 deaths, a higher share than her 2.9% share of the global COVID-19 cases — implying a higher likelihood of COVID-19 deaths on the continent than the global average.

The share of severe (serious or critical) cases out of active cases has also been higher in Africa at 0.8% than the global average of 0.6%.

Kenya has been posting some worrying statistics on the share of active cases and the trend of population-normalized testing rate. The relatively low recovery rate of 68% has been reflected in a high share of Africa’s total active cases, which has stayed above 14% despite having only 3.5% of Africa’s total COVID-19 cases.

The daily testing rate in Kenya, population-normalized at a third of Rwanda’s, must be increased to reveal a more accurate pattern of the emerging wave, which could end up introducing an earlier fourth wave in total defiance of the earlier model projection that the fourth wave would pick up the pace in July.

The westward surge in the spatial spread of new cases in Kenya is a convincing explanation of the effects of the more contagious Indian variant detected to be extending its tentacles from the western city of Kisumu. Containment measures must be calibrated in light of these new and increasing infection rates.

Overview of COVID-19 Statistics: Global, Africa, Kenya

A year later, confirmed cases have multiplied a hundred times, making COVID-19 live up to its character once described in this series as a disruptive, distractive, destructive and distancing disease. As of May 29, 2021, the global tally of COVID-19 cases had topped 170 million, a huge surge from just one million cases at the beginning of April 2020. In Africa, more than 4.8 million cases have been reported, much lower than the more than 5.6 million cases in France alone, though much higher than the less than 50,000 cases Africa had reported by the end of April 2020.

It had to take up to August 6, 2020, for Africa to cross the one million mark in total reported cases. This outcome can be linked to the limitations in timingtesting, and tracing due to the structural deficiencies, geodemographic disparities across the diverse continent, and bottlenecks in the global supply chain that remain heavily tilted against the nation-states on the generally underdeveloped continent.

The global case fatality rate in May 2021 has remained steady at 2.1%, a big change from the early days of April 2020 when the global case fatality rates were increasing with the increasing data reported from countries across the world. For example, the global case fatality rates in early 2020 rapidly increased from 5% (7 deaths per million) on April 3, 6% (12.5 deaths per million) on April 10, 6.8% (18.5 deaths per million) on April 17, to 7% (25.2 deaths per million) on April 24, 2020. In terms of deaths per million people, the ratio, as expected, has been rising. Reaching 500 deaths per million people on earth by the end of July 2021 is most likely.

As of May 30, 2021, the total reported cases in Kenya stood at 170,647 (up from only 1,888 cases a year earlier on May 30, 2020). The attention-grabbing East African country has been battling a third COVID wave whose curve has been disrupted by the Indian variant, first detected in the lakeside city of Kisumu — a new reality that seems to dash the hope of flattening the third wave from May 26 as the model used here had earlier predicted. On May 26, 2021, the 169,356 cases reported in Kenya were already 1.5% above the model prediction of 166,775 cases for a flattening curve. The signs of departure from the trajectory of a flattening curve became evident from May 19, just a week after 12 cases of the Indian variant had been confirmed in the country. The positivity rates from May 18 to May 29 stayed above 5%.

Signs are clear from the model used here that come early June, Kenya’s actual COVID-19 curve will have shot more than 5% above the flattening trajectory projected earlier before the more contagious Indian variant was detected in the country. Any lowering of guard, thriving on super-spreader activities, indiscipline and relaxation of containment measures would invite an earlier fourth wave — probably arriving before July as was projected by the model before the Indian variant.

For shared visual understanding based of mapped evidence, the westward spread of the red danger signal in the map below shows that COVID-19 has since the detection of the Indian Variant in Kisumu been decisively increasing its attack in the lakeside city and the surrounding counties. The national share of COVID-19 cases in Kisumu County has increased from 2% most of April to 2.6% as of May 28, 2021.

The Stabilizing Global Metrics

In May 2021, the common metrics of gauging COVID-19 attack have practically stabilized. The case fatality rates have stabilized at 2.1% globally, 2.7% in Africa, and 1.8% in Kenya. The recovery rates have also stabilized at 89% globally (up from only 28% as of April 24, 2020), 90% in Africa, and 68% in Kenya. The top country performance in recovery rates with low case fatality rates has been seen in Israel and Turkey, respectively posting more than 99% and more than 96% in recovery rates, and less than 1% in their case fatality rates.

The share of COVID-19 cases in Africa has been steady at 2.9% of the global tally, a relatively low share for a continent with 17% of the global population. The share of COVID-19 cases in Kenya has been steady at 3.5% of Africa’s tally, an almost equitable share for a country with 4% of Africa’s population.

The Weaker COVID-19 Metrics in Africa and Kenya

Africa has, however, been claiming 3.7% of the global COVID-19 deaths, a higher share than her 2.9% share of the global COVID-19 cases — implying a higher likelihood of COVID-19 deaths on the continent than the global average. The share of severe (serious or critical) cases out of active cases has also been higher in Africa at 0.8% than the global average of 0.6%. The corresponding share for Kenya has been 0.2%.

Kenya has, however, been posting some worrying statistics on the share of active cases and the trend of population-normalized testing rate. The relatively low recovery rate of 68% has been reflected in a high share of Africa’s total active cases, which has stayed above 14% despite having only 3.5% of Africa’s total COVID-19 cases. The all-time daily average population-normalized testing rate in Kenya has stagnated between 73 and 74.5 tests per million people per day over the period April — May 2021. This performance, already normalized for differences in country populations and the dates when the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed, fades in comparison to the following countries in May 2021: Rwanda (more than 243), Morocco (more than 385), South Africa (more than 425), India (more than 490), and Brazil (more than 505).

To assert the wide differences in testing capacity, the higher testing performance in advanced economies in May has been evident in the UK (more than 5340 tests per million people per day), Israel (more than 3400 tests per million people per day), the USA (more than 2900 tests per million people per day), and France (more than 2600 tests per million people per day).

Conclusion and Implications for Containment Measures in Kenya

Having departed from the model flattening trajectory since May 19, Kenya’s third COVID wave has been disrupted beyond the “green line of hope” that would have reached its peak at 166,775 cases on May 26, 2021. The actual cases on May 26 were 1.5% above the model projection. In early June, the increasing trend is likely to see the actual curve surging beyond 5% above the erstwhile flattening model curve.

The daily testing rate in Kenya, population-normalized at a third of Rwanda’s, must be increased to reveal a more accurate pattern of the emerging wave, which could end up introducing an earlier fourth wave in total defiance of the earlier model projection that the fourth wave would pick up the pace in July.

The westward surge in the spatial spread of new cases is a convincing explanation of the effects of the more contagious Indian variant detected to be extending its tentacles from the western city of Kisumu.

The firm message from these metrics is that Kenya must take informed action through the following key steps:

  1. No relaxation of the existing containment measures is justified, only more self-discipline to increase compliance levels.
  2. Sampling and testing efficacy must be enhanced to provide the strategic intelligence required for timely calibration of containment measures.
  3. Existing COVID-19 models must be updated to remain responsive to the more contagious variants being detected across the world, such as the Indian and Vietnamese variants. The Indian variant has now been confirmed to be a key disruptor, gradually painting the map of the western region of Kenya in red.
  4. Super-spreader events in Kisumu and generally the western part of Kenya must be avoided at all cost, hence the urgent need to limit community transmission during the planned June 1 Madaraka holiday celebrations in Kisumu.

By Nashon Adero

The author has since March 2020 been modelling COVID-19 scenarios across 16 countries in Africa and 16 countries outside Africa. He has co-edited a new book (2021) entitled The Future of Africa in the Post-COVID-19 World, published by the Inter Region Economic Network (IREN) as a signature project of university-industry collaboration for African thought leaders.

Email: nashon.adero@gmail.com


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