NAIROBI, Kenya — In just the past three weeks, the percentage of Kenyans who tested positive for the coronavirus jumped from less than 1 percent to more than 30 percent — the country’s highest positivity rate yet.
In Uganda, nearly 50 lawmakers and their staff members, some of them vaccinated, tested positive this week after attending a sports tournament in neighboring Tanzania.
And in Zimbabwe, skyrocketing infections have pushed the government to institute new restrictions on businesses and incoming travelers.
Across Africa, countries are reporting a surge in Covid cases, and health officials worry about how the new Omicron variant will affect the world’s least-vaccinated continent. Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa, remains highly contagious, but so far it is causing fewer deaths and hospitalizations than previous variants such as Delta.
The latest wave comes as many African countries were beginning to reopen and businesses were hoping for a robust holiday season — only for governments to reintroduce curfews and quarantines and impose new vaccine mandates.
Even as Britain and the United States lifted Omicron-related travel restrictions on southern African states in the past week, Africans faced new travel restrictions from elsewhere because of the rising infections. Beginning Saturday, the United Arab Emirates is suspending entry for travelers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, and imposing additional requirements for those traveling from Ghana and Uganda.
“We are unfortunately going to be celebrating the end-of-the-year holiday season in the middle of the fourth wave that’s sweeping across the continent,” Dr. John N. Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference on Thursday.
At least 21 African countries are now experiencing a fourth wave of the pandemic, according to the Africa C.D.C. Three countries — Algeria, Kenya and Mauritius — are undergoing a fifth one.
Omicron is tearing through Africa, with 22 nations now reporting the variant. It is not known whether the highly contagious variant is the dominant one or the one driving the surge of infections across Africa. But health experts say that even in countries where genomic sequencing is not readily available, the sudden bump in cases could point to the spread of the Omicron variant.
And experts say overall Covid infections in Africa are likely higher given the lack of widespread testing in many countries.
Abdi Latif Dahir reported from Nairobi, and Jeffrey Moyo from Harare, Zimbabwe. Lynsey Chutelcontributed reporting from Johannesburg.