The COVID-19 Trajectory in Africa over the Last One Year – Statistics and Numbers

The world has been grappling with the unprecedented COVID-19 health pandemic for almost a year now. According to data from The Coronavirus App, As of Tuesday, February 2, 2021, Covid-19 infected 104,117,862 people (+405,882). So far, 2,260,900 (+9,935) people have died worldwide and according to the WHO, there will be no herd immunity in the year 2021 even though vaccines are available.

The disease is derived from the words corona, virus, and disease, while the number 19 represents the year that it emerged. It has affected more than 210 countries, with the United States confirming one-fifth of the Global cases. Even in the African continent which had a low prevalence of the disease during the past two months of 2020 ( The COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed to have spread to Africa on 14th February 2020 in Egypt), As of February 1st, 2021, the Africa CDC reports that the cases were 3583054, deaths at 91554 and recoveries at 3,076064.

Three months after the first case was confirmed, the coronavirus had spread throughout the continent. Even Lesotho, which had managed to put the virus at bay, recorded its first case in May. Towards the end of May, many countries were already experiencing community transmission albeit with limited testing capacity.

Initially, many people were expressing concern about COVID-19 spreading to Africa due to inadequate healthcare systems in the continent. Many countries also experience problems such as lack of funding, lack of medical equipment, insufficiently trained health care workers, and inefficient data transmission.

Experts feared that it would be very difficult to control the spread of the disease, and such would cause unprecedented levels of economic turmoil. To prevent the virus from spreading like a bushfire, the WHO helped many countries in the continent to set up laboratories for testing.

The united nation estimated that the continent needed at least 74 million test kits and 30,000 ventilators to test, trace, isolate, and treat residents of the continent who were at a population of 1.3 billion as of 2020.

Rapid Spread in the Continent

Unfortunately, despite the preventative measures such as flight cancellations, school and border closures, travel restrictions and event cancelation implemented by different countries in the continent, by Mid-June Africa had surpassed 200,000 COVID-19 cases. It was even more alarming with the continent having recorded 100,000 cases in the first 98 days but only 18 days to record the next 100,000 cases.  

The worrisome acceleration of the spread continued and by July 2020, the cases had exceeded half a million, with at least 50% of the reported cases from South Africa and Egypt. These statistics seemed to confirm fears of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus once it made its presence known in the continent.

Hardest Hit Countries

Towards the end of July 2020, The WHO voiced concerns about the rapid spread of the disease among African countries, stating that South Africa was among the hardest-hit countries by the pandemic in Africa.

The World Health organization was worried that the surging numbers would be a precursor for more outbreaks in the continent. This was confirmed in early August when the total number of infections surpassed a million people with five countries – Nigeria, Ethiopia, Morocco, Egypt, and South Africa, making 75% of the total infections in the continent.

However, these statistics are believed to be lower than the actual number of infections due to low testing rates in most African countries. Despite the high prevalence of new infections in Africa, the mortality rate was lower compared to Europe and the United States because the bulk of Africa’s population is made up of a younger age.

The Changing COVID-19 Curve

The whole world has been trying to flatten the COVID-19 curve to minimize the economic impact of the pandemic. The curve is essentially a projection of confirmed cases of the coronavirus over a specified period.

Mostly presented in a graph, it represents the number of people who have contracted the disease on the vertical axis and each passing day since the first case represented on the horizontal axis. A high curve appears when there is a steep increase in the number of cases per day until the peak and then a decline in daily infections. When a country flattens the curve, it simply means introducing measures to reduce the potential spread of infection, thus preventing healthcare systems from being overburdened by an influx of cases.

Towards the end of October and beginning of November 2020, infection rates in many African countries took a downturn while in some countries the numbers began to rise.

The WHO and The Africa CDC reported that the curve had been flattening in countries like Kenya and South Africa while countries like Equatorial Guinea and Senegal were experiencing a steady decline in the number of new infections.

However, countries like Morocco, Ethiopia, Libya, and Algeria (North Africa region) were experiencing a steady rise in the number of new infections. This was attributed to the emergence of a slightly resistant new strain of the COVID-19 virus.

By December, the new more worrying, and transmissible variant of the coronavirus strain had spread as far as South Africa, making the country reach over a million cases of infections. By February 2, the country reports 1,456,309 (+2,548) new cases and 44,399 deaths (+235).

Mitigation Measures 

African organizations and governments have been trying to flatten the curve in their respective countries by essentially introducing interventions to help curb the high prevalence of the diseases within their territories.

These measures have included border closures, school closures, banning of public gatherings, and flight restrictions. The quick and prompt actions by African governments to implement social distancing, lockdowns, and effective measures to test, trace, and treat have been significantly slowing down the spread of the virus in the continent.

The first African country to implement these mitigating measures was Rwanda on 21 March 2020. Their Lockdown measure prompted other countries like Kenya to follow suit, however many countries preferred instituting partial lockdowns of high-risk communities and major cities.

Preliminary data indicate that nations that implemented nationwide lockdowns had a significant decrease in the number of new cases from a 67% rise in the first week to a 27% in the second week. Furthermore, the countries that implemented targeted or partial lockdowns along with public health measures were more effective in slowing down the spread of the virus.

As weeks turned into months, most countries found that they were finding it difficult to balance the huge social and economic costs of implementing the mitigating measures. Countries started to relax in their confinement measures. Ghana was the first to lift its partial lockdown in Kumasi and Accra.

This prompted other countries such as Kenya to lift their partial lockdown, however still maintaining other restrictions such as limiting the number of passengers on public transport and the number of people in public gatherings.


A year after the first infection was reported in Africa, some countries in the continent are still grappling with the pandemic as new cases of the virus are on the rise. The rise in the numbers of new infections especially in Algeria, Libya, and South Africa prompted the African Union to secure at least 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in one of the largest African Agreements as of yet.

Announced on 13 January 2021, this effort is aimed at distributing COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income countries. South Africa expects the first vaccines to be delivered in February and wishes to vaccinate 67% of the population in 2021.

Unfortunately, African countries are being charged more for COVID-19 vaccines than their European counterparts are. As such, African countries need to invest more in mitigation measures rather than rely on vaccines whose efficacy is not absolute. This will help flatten the curve and improve their health, social and economic situations as scientists and health care experts continue looking for a better way to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.



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