Nigeria faces high risk, NMA, virologist issue strong warnings
The B.1.351 variant of the coronavirus, first found in South Africa, is spreading in 23 African countries, the World Health Organisation has said.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, the WHO Regional Virologist, Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, noted that the strain presented the same symptoms such as fever, cough, headache, and breathing difficulty, among others, regular with the original COVID-19.
Gumede-Moeletsi also listed the affected Africa countries to include Kenya, Cameroon, Cote D’ ívoire, Malawi, Mauritius, Togo, Botswana, Comoros, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Ghana, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Seychelles and Tanzania.
The Nigerian Medical Association and health experts have, however, called for caution among Nigerians and the Federal Government as the strain hit neighbouring countries.
She said, “The symptoms for any variant or even the original coronavirus are still the same; cough, headache, fever etc. They are still the same as we know from the beginning of the pandemic.’’
Gumede-Moeletsi noted that social distancing, hand washing and wearing of face masks were recommended as preventive measures to curb the spread of the variant in the affected countries.
“The cases have decreased in South Africa. It indicates that the country has managed to contain the virus. There is a decrease in the number of hospitalisations and severe cases. The country is doing a tremendous job in controlling the spread of this particular strain.’’
Earlier, The WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said during a virtual press conference during the week facilitated by the APO Group that new variants placed the continent at risk of a third wave.
He said, “The B.1.617 variant that was first found in India has been reported in at least one African country. The B.1.351 strain, first found in South Africa, is spreading in 23 African countries and the B1.1.7 strain, first found in the United Kingdom, has been found in 20 countries.
“With new variants circulating, low vaccination levels, population fatigue in adhering to preventive measures, and easing of restrictions, the conditions are present for a resurgence. The tragedy in India does not have to happen in Africa, but we must all be on the highest possible alert. Governments must maintain strong surveillance and detection systems, reassess and bolster their treatment capacities, step up the supply of critical medicines, including medical oxygen and ensure there are enough beds for severely ill patients.”
Meanwhile, Saturday PUNCH on April 10 reported that the two cities most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – Lagos and Abuja – had begun shutting down their isolation centres as Nigerians snubbed the medical facilities.
At the time, the National Hospital, Abuja had discharged its last patient while the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada, which attended to most severe cases, had about four patients as opposed to the average of 30 severe patients it used to have.
The Lagos State Government also reportedly closed down its 554-bed isolation centres following the decline in COVID-19 cases in the state.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, confirmed that only one functional isolation centre was still active in the state.
NMA, health experts issue warnings to Nigerians
The chairmen of the NMA in Edo and Osun states called on Nigerians and the Federal Government to be cautious regarding the variant in the neighbouring countries.
Dr Harrison Omokhua who is of the Edo State chapter advised Nigerians to continue adhering to the non-pharmaceutical protocols, noting that the risk of experiencing another wave was high.
He said, “The truth is that the risk is always there as long as we continue to relax adherence to the non-pharmaceutical measures of preventing the virus. What this means is that if someone with the South African strain enters the country, there would be a problem.
“The risk is high as long as it is spreading around the continent. That strain has been found to be more ruthless than the previous ones. We will continue to appeal to everyone because there is a tendency to relax. I can see that people have begun to relax because we do not have a high number of cases again. There is a false feeling of deja vu only to be hit hard because people have now relaxed.
“I advise the government to ensure that the enforcers of the protocol start to do more and do not relax. The laws are no longer as strict as they used to be. Even from the government posture, it appears they feel that we have overcome the worst. It is not Uhuru yet as experts have also predicted a third wave. The people also must start to adhere to the protocols again and avoid large gatherings.”
His counterpart in Osun State, Dr Razak Akindele, urged the Federal Government to be on alert to prevent the strain from entering Nigeria.
Akindele stated that the Federal Government must immediately move by reintroducing preventive measures observed when the virus was first recorded in the country.
He warned that the strain was more severe, hence the need for the Federal Government to reintroduce safety protocols, especially the one concerning movement into Nigeria from the country where the strain had been confirmed.
FG must improve border surveillance, identify high-risk travellers –Experts
In his comment, a Professor of Virology and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof Oyewale Tomori, said as the strain discovered in South African entered Nigeria’s neighbouring countries, the country must improve its surveillance at the borders.
Tomori, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday, said Nigeria must be on the alert by readying the laboratories to detect the variant should it be recorded in the country.
He said, “It is a bit of a surprise that we have not yet reported the South African variant 501.V2/B.1.351. But with the variant already reported in Ghana, Togo, and Cameroon. I think all we need is for Nigeria to report the variant.
“Nigeria is boxed in to receive the variant through our porous borders. Therefore, it is a matter of great concern, especially when we know that the variant contributed to the large number of cases in South Africa early this year. More worrying is the fact that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine we are using in Nigeria is less effective against the variant.
“Therefore, we need to be on the alert [by ensuring] real-time testing by our labs to detect the variant if it gets in. We need better monitoring of incoming passengers plus improved surveillance and contact tracing.”
Tomori also urged the citizens to adhere to safety protocols such as the wearing of face masks, avoiding large gatherings, keeping social distancing, and regular washing of hands.
He added, “It is left to us to limit the spread of the variant should it arrive in Nigeria. Also, the government has requested enhanced vigilance at our borders. It is left for the immigration and customs officers to ensure that those identified as high-risk people are thoroughly checked and followed up. It is more of our duty and responsibility.’’
Also, a former President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr Francis Faduyile, said the risk of the South African variant getting into the country was apparent, asking the government to improve on its security and surveillance at the borders.
He said, “The risk is obvious, and if we don’t take the necessary precautions, the variant may get into Nigeria. But I think the question about this whole pandemic is that it is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’
“If we follow the history of any pandemic, it finds itself throughout the nooks and crannies of the world. Nigeria needs to improve its security and surveillance at the borders.”
‘Variant about 50 per cent more contagious’
The Wall Street Journal reported that the South African variant worried scientists because of its unusually large number of mutations, especially in the spike protein, which the virus uses to attach to and infect human cells. It noted that the spike protein was the part of the virus targeted by COVID-19 vaccines and antibody treatments.
Noting that new cases had dropped since the variant peaked in January, the journal added that South African researchers had said that B.1.351 might be around 50 per cent more contagious, based on the much faster rate of COVID-19 transmission since its emergence and biological studies of changes to the structure of the virus, appearing to make it easier for it to attach to and infect human cells. According to it, the researchers say the variant doesn’t appear to lead to more severe cases of coronavirus.
Africa administers two per cent of global vaccine doses –WHO
The African continent has administered 19.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which translates to only two per cent of the global figure, the WHO said on Saturday.
Meanwhile, 80 per cent of all doses administered globally have been in high and upper-middle-income countries, the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, said during his opening remarks at a high-level emergency virtual meeting of African Ministers of Health on the COVID-19 situation in Africa.
The event had in attendance African leaders, including the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Mahamat; South African President Cyril Ramaphosa; and President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Also in attendance were the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti; the Chairman, Governing Board, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Prof Moustafa Mijiyawa; the Director, Africa CDC, Dr John Nkengasong; and other ministers of health on the continent.
In his remarks, Ghebreyesus said Africa was the only region to have developed a unified continental strategy on COVID-19, adding that the strategy had delivered results.
In a statement, Ghebreyesus said although Africa had suffered as a result of the pandemic, it had not yet seen the same scale of devastation as in some other regions.
He, however, warned against complacency, saying, “What is happening now in many other parts of the world can happen in our Africa if we let down our guard. In many countries, the emergence of rapidly spreading variants, combined with a premature easing of public health and social measures, and the inequitable distribution of vaccines, is having tragic consequences as we all know,” he said.
Travellers from India, others to pay N30, 000 per day for COVID-19 quarantine
Meanwhile, travellers from India, Turkey and Brazil are expected to pay N30, 000 per day for a seven-day COVID-19 quarantine based on the new guideline issued by the Federal Government, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.
This is according to a letter issued by Turkish airlines to its trade partners obtained by one of our correspondents.
It was gathered that along with the PCR test, travellers coming from these countries would have to incur an extra cost of at least N250, 000.
Two hotels – Nicon Luxury Abuja and Ibis Hotel Lagos – are the two locations where travellers from the affected countries will be expected to lodge for a minimum of seven days.
The letter read in part, “All passengers transiting Turkey will be allowed to board as they are exempted. Nigerians and resident card permit holders (foreigners) coming directly from Turkey, India or Brazil will be quarantined for seven days at government-approved centres and another PCR test will be conducted after the 7th day all at the passenger’s cost (NCDC informed us that the cost will be N30, 000 per day at Nicon Luxury Hotel in Abuja and Ibis Hotel in Lagos). Thirdly, foreign passengers (non-Nigerians) with only a visa departing directly from Turkey will not be allowed to board.” ,,