New Variants, New COVID Containment Challenges: Quantifying the Surge.

Early signs of Kenya’s third wave getting disrupted by the Indian variant

Key Highlights

The emerging trend of new cases since the Indian variant was confirmed in Kenya, 15 cases reported as of May 12, has been shifting the COVID curve upwards. Kenya has consequently moved from the 8th to the 7th position in Africa’s list of top country cases.

The emerging curve in Kenya has the potential to be a ravaging wave on a decisively westward course, and one whose track can only be reversed using resolute countermeasures and timely anticipatory interventions.

Key factors such as citizen behavior and testing efficacy aside, the newly detected Indian variant ravaging the western city of Kisumu must be a critical part of the new equation of growth for the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in western Kenya and the overall rise in the national tally.

The earlier model projection of the third COVID wave in Kenya possibly ebbing through a peak at 166,775 cases on May 26 was exceeded on May 20, six days earlier.

The new results are likely to accelerate the timelines and size of the fourth wave, which this modelling series predicted would pick up the pace in July.

Overview of the Changing COVID-19 Status Map

As at May 20, 2021, more than 165.7 million COVID-19 cases had been recorded globally with a case fatality rate of 2.1% and a recovery rate of 88%. Africa had recorded more than 4.7 million cases with a case fatality rate of 2.7% and a recovery rate of 90%. Kenya had recorded a total of 166,876 cases with a case fatality rate of 1.8% and a recovery rate of 68.5%.

New cases in Kenya averaging more than 171 between May 12 and May 26 would be a harbinger of a new surge, one singularly determined to defy the former model scenario of an ebbing trajectory that would later see the third wave flattening after May 26, 2021. This threshold mean value has been exceeded by far.

Consolidated Key Message on New Case Developments in Kenya and the Lakeside City of Kisumu

The yearlong mathematical modelling series, shared here regularly, had established that for Kenya, any experience of new cases averaging more than 171 between May 12 and May 26 would be a harbinger of a new surge, one singularly determined to defy the former model scenario of an ebbing trajectory that would later see the third wave flattening after May 26, 2021. This threshold mean value has been exceeded by far. Henceforth, containment measures in Kenya must be re-calibrated against the emerging reality of an accelerated pace of COVID-19 attacks on the one hand and critical constraints on health facilities and vaccine supply on the other. Key factors such as citizen behavior and testing efficacy aside, the newly detected Indian variant ravaging the western city of Kisumu must be a critical part of the new equation of growth for the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in western Kenya and the overall rise in the national tally.

A Challenged Testing Capacity

Up to May 20, 2021, the mean population-normalized testing rate in Kenya had still stagnated at 74 tests/million people/day, far below 242 tests/million people/day for Rwanda on the same date or 425 tests/million people/day for South Africa. The equivalent metric for the UK on the same date was far much higher, at 5345 tests/million people/day. The implication is that the cases reported in Kenya must be examined through the lens of a constrained testing capacity, hence likely to be highly under-reported. The trend of the curve is, however, a key reference point for calibrating the level of seriousness of containment measures and compliance by discipline.

Evidence of a Surging Trend in Kenya after Confirming the Indian Variant

Since April 17, 2021 when the total cases recorded went above the model projection (optimistic scenario), by 0.1%, it took up to May 19, 2021 for the cases to rise above the model projection again, again interestingly by 0.1%. As at May 20, the total recorded number of 166,876 cases was 0.3% above the model projection. Kenya has also deteriorated in COVID-19 ranking in Africa, from the 8th to the 7th position in the battered league table of country cases.

This outcome has given a clear indication that the emerging trend of new cases since the Indian variant was confirmed in Kenya, 15 cases reported as of May 12, has been shifting the curve upwards. Notably, it has become clear that the earlier model projection of the third COVID wave in Kenya possibly ebbing through a peak at 166,775 cases on May 26 has already been exceeded on May 20, six days earlier. The fourth wave that this modelling series projected for July could, as a result, pick up the pace sooner. As shown graphically in the model below, only four days in the range from February 26 to May 20 have recorded positivity rates of below 5%.

These new results are significant pointers from a mathematical modelling perspective and an instructive signal for a new containment policy direction and strategy. Kenya needs to re-strategize in the face of the slow but sure surge in her COVID-19 curve, more so given the new variants and delay in vaccine supply, which keeps shifting the timeline for administering the required second dose to the first group of vaccinated citizens.

Actual recorded cases in Kenya have since May 19 overshot the model projections and from May 20 gone past the third-wave peak of 166,775 cases that was projected for May 26, 2021

A Ravaging Wave on a Westward Course

The status map below displays the geography of COVID-19 cases aggregated by county-level administrative units across Kenya. The trend of the heat map of COVID-19 cases in Kenya is still the way it was confirmed in the earlier results of this modelling series. The red signal is decisively moving westward, raising the hazard level for Kisumu where the first cases of the Indian variant were confirmed. Changing the track of this developing danger in western Kenya calls for determined, well-informed countermeasures and timely anticipatory interventions calibrated by robust models, which must be driven by data integrity.

Heat map painting Nairobi, Mombasa, and the western counties of Kenya red, hence more burdened with COVID-19 cases.

The plans for celebrating the June 1 public holiday of Madaraka (day of self internal government) in Kisumu must take precautionary measures because this county, from the emerging trends attributable to the new Indian variant, may easily become the new center of concern. The evidence on the ground by May 20, 2021 was that the supply of hospital bed space in Kisumu for severe cases had been exceeded by the high demand.

Conclusion

Though the battle is far from over, the weapons of combat must become better with these emerging lessons and scalable models, which have over a full year of adaptive modification become more and more precise tools of policy advice. This is the opportune time for consolidating lessons, sharpening the containment measures, and learning to dance in the storm of this resurgent pandemic rather than allowing pandemic fatigue and despair to set in.

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This is the product of more than a decade of dedicated experience in research, skills development, training, and mentorship. Through mentorship and career development fora, IBD empowers youth with the knowledge, international exposure, and digital fluency they need to be emancipated global citizens with borderless influence for sustainable development.