John O. Ifediora.

As the Covid-19 pandemic in sub-Sharan African countries conveyed a sense of existential urgency in March, 2020, African governments, with the aid of international organizations and rich western countries, surprised many with swift implementations of public safety measures recommended by the World health Organization (WHO). These measures included mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, the use of hand-sanitizers, and, as a measure of last resort, closed their borders and limited domestic travels. For a sustained period, these measures, while not fully observed by the public, limited the spread of Covid-19.

An accounting of how successful these safety measures were in checking the spread of the epidemic is hard to quantify, primarily because the supply of test-kits was inadequate, and record keeping of positive test results was unreliable at best. But to the extent that the morgues and hospital ICUs were not over-flowing with unburied remains of Covid-19 victims, a reasonable extrapolation may be made that the safety measures in place at the emergence of the pandemic were helpful. But that was then; at present, all safety measures are strictly pro forma as governments turn their attention to other pressing ‘needs,’ and the public resumes its search for economic sustenance and culturally prescribed social gathering, alas minus distancing.

The laxity shown by governments and the public in recent months has reversed the benefits of early strict enforcement of safety measures. The infection and death rates are now on the rise in the continent, and with inadequate medical infrastructure that defines the lots of constituent countries, a nasty viral onslaught is projected to decimate populations and economies far more than anticipated. This is especially worrisome as Covid-19 mutates and unleashes replicas of itself that are far more infectious, and perhaps deadlier; such replica, labeled B.1.17, has emerged in Britain, and under study by scientists to determine its characteristics and genetic make-up.

SARS-Covid-2, better known as Covid-19, is behaving as expected of viruses, which is to mutate into more or less deadly versions of itself until an effective vaccine minimizes its efficacy in transmission and associated health complications. The B.1.1.7 virus has now been isolated in Denmark, Australia, Iceland, Britain and the Netherlands. In Britain, its transmission rate is 50% higher than that of Covid-19, and comes with a higher viral load detectable in the nose and throat, but its ability to cause more complications and death is yet to be determined. In South Africa, a variant of Covid-19 with a much faster transmission rate is now in play, and under study.

These developments do not bode well for African countries. Unless governments revert to their early state of vigilance and enforcement of safety measures put in place at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, things could get nastier very fast.