DR Congo warns of 'catastrophe' as Delta variant spreads

DR Congo's case numbers have jumped over the last month and the highly contagious Delta variant now represents 84 % of infections.

FILE: Agents of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees perform a temperature check part of the COVID-19 measures at the entrance of a refugee registration site in Ndu, Bas-Uele Province, Democratic Republic of Congo on 21 January 2021. Picture: ALEXIS HUGUET/AFP

KINSHASA - The head of DR Congo's fight against COVID-19 warned on Thursday of "catastrophe" if the Delta variant keeps rapidly spreading in the country, saying hospitals were already overwhelmed and morgues overflowing.

Africa has largely been spared the worst of the pandemic seen elsewhere, but DR Congo's case numbers have jumped over the last month and the highly contagious Delta variant now represents 84% of infections.

DR Congo recorded 112 new cases over the past 24 hours, including 76 in the capital and epicentre of its epidemic Kinshasa, raising the country's total to 41,353. It has also recorded a total of 933 deaths.

Jean-Jacques Muyembe, head of the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB) and the person charged with the country's coronavirus response, said the "evolution of the Delta variant is very worrying".

"The contamination is rapid and if it continues, it will be a catastrophe in the DRC," he told an online press conference held by the World Health Organization's Africa office.

"Our hospitals are overwhelmed, the morgues are overflowing, many politicians and university professors have been infected with the virus, and many have died."

WHO Africa said the Delta variant, which first emerged in India, has now been reported in 16 countries on the continent.

"It is the most contagious variant ever detected, with a rate of transmissibility 30 to 60 % higher than other variants," WHO Africa said at the press conference.

WHO Africa director Matshidiso Moeti said quick action must be taken "to strengthen prevention measures and avoid an emergency situation transforming into a tragedy".

DR Congo, like other African countries, is suffering from a crippling shortage of COVID vaccines.

"We are expecting five million doses, which will be a mixture of two or three vaccines, to paid for directly by the government," Muyembe said, adding they would arrive on Monday.

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