• Variant detected in three persons with travel history to S’Africa, says NCDC
• Contact tracing never effective, variant already in circulation – Virologists
• Africa accounts for only 4.3% of COVID-19 global fatalities, states ECOWAS
Virologists on Wednesday expressed concern that there was a high risk of community transmission of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the country.
The virologists, including a professor of Medical Virology at the University of Maiduguri, Marycelin Baba, stated this in separate interviews with The PUNCH while reacting to detection of three cases of the Omicron variant in the country, called for community testing.
The experts stated these as Canada placed travel bans on Nigeria, Egypt and Malawi.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control had on Wednesday morning announced the discovery of three cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The NCDC’s detection of three cases of Omiron variant came three days after Canada said it had detected cases of the variant in two travellers, who recently visited Nigeria.
A statement released by the NCDC Director-General, Ifedayo Adetifa, stated that the strain was detected in three persons with travel history to South Africa.
“The genomics surveillance has now identified and confirmed Nigeria’s first cases of the B.1.1.529 SARS-COV-2 lineage, now known as the omicron variant. Samples obtained for the stipulated day two test for all travellers to Nigeria were positive for this variant in three persons with travel history to South Africa.
“These cases were recent arrivals in the country in the past week. Follow up to ensure isolation, linkage to clinical care, contact tracing and other relevant response activities have commenced. Arrangements are also being made to notify the country where travellers originated according to the provisions of the International Health Policy.
But virologists, who spoke to The PUNCH, faulted the proposed plan of the NCDC to embark on contact tracing following the announcement of the discovery of three cases of the Omricon variant.
They called on the Federal Government to increase the vaccination rate in order to prevent more mutations.
A professor of medical virology at the University of Maiduguri, Baba, faulted the plans of the NCDC to engage in contact tracing a week after the samples were obtained.
Contract tracing has never been effective, variant already in circulation – Virologists
Baba, who spoke in an interview with The PUNCH in Abuja, added that the virus was already in circulation.
“Engaging in contact tracing a week after the samples were taken is a futile adventure and simply a waste of time. Contact tracing has never been effective. Do you know the number of places the person has been to? The variant is already in circulation and there is a high risk of community infections but how will we even know when we do not even engage in community testing?
Variant already in circulation, there is a high risk of community infections – Expert
“At this point, we need to increase community testing, make sure that people are fully vaccinated. This is not just for civil servants alone but for all calibres of people. Also, it is important that we may continue to witness several mutations if we continue to have vaccination gap.”Another professor of Virology at the University of Ibadan, Professor Georgina Odaibo, agreed with Baba. Odaibo who is a former Head of Department at the Department of Virology also advised the public not to let guards down.
She said, “Just as I suspected the virus has been found in the country and if the information we are getting is correct. It simply implies that the virus has been with us for a while.
“This strain has several mutations. The effects are not known; whether they are virulent or less virulent, no one really knows. This is not the time to let our guards down. Yes, contact tracing is good, but is it effective? At this point we need to increase the rate of vaccination.”
Nigeria’s health system may not be able to handle community transmission of new variant – Expert
On his part, a medical virologist at the Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, Dr Oladipo Kolawole, said the country must do all within its power to prevent the community spread of the Omicron variant.
Kolawole, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said it would be difficult for the country’s health system to handle the community transmission of the new variant.
“The late detection is not good for the health system, as it was reported that the samples which tested positive to the Omicron variant were from November travellers which are asymptomatic. This only shows that community testing or surveillance should be a continuous exercise. We need to test and keep on testing both asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals in different communities. Also, sequencing capacity should be increased to detect more of this variant or emerging variants.
“Does Nigeria have the capacity to contain the variant? That is dependent on the affected population, but I think we should do everything within our reach to prevent community transmission of the variants. If such happens, our health system may not be able to handle such,” Kolawole said.
Canada places travel ban on Nigeria
Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos was quoted as saying by Sputnik News Agency as confirming the travel ban placed on Nigeria.
“We are adding three countries to the list of these countries that we talked about last Friday, these are Malawi, Egypt and Nigeria,” Duclos added that all travellers coming from outside Canada, apart from the United States, would now be tested at Canadian airports for the novel coronavirus disease, regardless of vaccination status.”
Africa accounts for only 4.3% of COVID-19 global fatalities – ECOWAS
Meanwhile, the Economic Community of West African States has said it requires 263 million vaccine doses to cover 40 per cent of the population of its 15 member states.
The regional body said the coronavirus had claimed 221,593 deaths in Africa as of November 21, 2021, representing 4.3 per cent of the global fatalities.
The economic bloc further stated that the current vaccination campaigns in its member states were insufficient to cover 40 per cent of the population.
These were contained in the 2021 Report on the State of the Community signed by the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr Jean Kassi Brou.
The report put the total vaccines received at 48, 162, 280, while doses administered were 23, 712, 031, adding that 8, 773, 073 persons had completed their doses.
It stated, “Africa has 8,581,900 cases (3.3 per cent of global cases) with 221,593 deaths (4.3 per cent of global). ECOWAS region: Number of cases x 3 and deaths x 3.5 (Feb 2020-Oct 2021). “Vaccination campaigns in member states are ongoing but insufficient to cover 40 per cent of the population. ECOWAS countries would need 263mn extra doses of vaccine to cover 40 per cent of their population. There is a need to promote local production capacities.”
Ramaphosa alleges discrimination in S’Africa, others’ travel ban over Omicron
The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, has described the travel ban placed on his country and other nations in Southern Africa as “arbitrary, discriminatory, unscientific and unproductive” in the long run.
Ramaphosa said this on Wednesday when he was hosted by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in Abuja during his visit to Nigeria.
He thanked the leaders of Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal for expressing their dissatisfaction with the travel bans. Earlier, Buhari urged for a stronger emphasis on people-to-people relations between South Africa and Nigeria; to evolve to a point where there would be no need for unhealthy competition.
This is as he reiterated Nigeria’s commitment to improving a“special relationship’’ with South Africa, which will translate into gains for the continent, particularly in education, science, trade and investment, tourism and security.
At the opening of the 10th Session of Nigeria-South Africa Bi-National Commission held in his office, Buhari said, “Mr President, permit me to state that some of the challenges identified during the last Bi-National Commission have not been completely addressed. We need to ensure that our people-to-people relations are enhanced to a point where there would be no need for unhealthy competition.
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