ADDIS ABABA – The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) on Friday urged African health authorities to intensify COVID-19 prevention measures amid the emergence of a new variant.

The Africa CDC made the call a day after the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa announced the detection of a new variant, B.1.1.529, of the SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization on Friday classified it as a “Variant of Concern.”

“National health authorities across the continent should reinforce public health and social measures and accelerate immunization of their populations, prioritizing high risk groups, ahead of upcoming new waves of COVID-19 infections,” the agency said in a statement.

It called on African countries to expedite COVID-19 vaccination drive to halt the spread of the virus, saying “vaccines remain a key tool to prevent severe cases and deaths from COVID-19 infection.”

The agency underscored the need to reinforce timely genomic surveillance through coordination with national and regional pathogen genomics laboratories. As of Saturday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa has reached 8,616,912 with 222,301 deaths and 8,064,499 recoveries, according to the agency. – Xinhua News