The Omicron Virus Is Surging Across East Africa – Here Is What We Know So Far


The Omicron virus, a new variant of the Coronavirus that was recently discovered in South Africa, has been surging across East Africa. According to reports by health ministries in East African nations, an uptick in COVID infections has been reported with hospitalization and deaths also going up. At the time of writing, Kenya was averaging at least 3000 new cases a day while Tanzania and Uganda were not far behind.

What the WHO Says About Omicron

Although Omicron has been described as a highly contagious virus of concern by the WHO, as more data comes in, it is emerging that it is not as serious as thought. In fact, South African authorities said that they were seeing very mild symptoms among Omicron patients.

The country however warned that these results may not be replaced in other countries. There is also research showing that Omicron could actually displace Delta, a more potent variant of the Coronavirus. But East African countries are nonetheless dealing with increased infections.

Vaccination and Omicron

Recent reports have also indicated that Omicron can infect people who are fully vaccinated. However, the vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalization by a huge margin. But even with this info, most East African countries have struggled with vaccine uptake.

The nations in the region have in fact received millions of doses of vaccines from around the world. But hesitancy among the population has proved a huge barrier towards wide-scale vaccinations.

Kenya appears to be the top performer in the region. The country has vaccinated at least 9.4 million people with a single dosage while 4.5 million are fully vaccinated. It will take mass vaccination efforts to reduce the risk of Omicron and other variants.

Lockdowns And Government Directives

Despite the surge in infections, East African governments have refused to take stringent containment measures. During the onset of the pandemic, there were full blow lockdowns across many countries. But this time it seems a laxer approach is the way to go.

But there are increased calls for vaccinations. The Kenyan government has for example banned unvaccinated people from public gatherings, including restaurants and other public places. There are also new mask mandates for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. However, we have not seen any real effort by the state to enforce these new directives.

The Impact of Omicron in The Near Term

The economic impact of Omicron is not expected to be huge on most East African economies. The nations are on a path towards recovery with all of them projected to see positive GDP numbers this year. There is however increased pressure on the public health system.

Also, there is really no end in sight. As one of the most infectious variants we have seen, Omicron could push many countries to new infection highs in the near term. But it is highly unlikely that the spread of the virus will lead to any serious economic effects down the line.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

About Nyambura Tabitha

Tabitha Nyambura is a seasoned Kenyan journalist with years of experience in digital publishing. Her focus is on politics and the economy. She has worked as a freelance journalist for ten years and continues to bring interesting stories that matter to readers all across East Africa.