Nigeria has recorded its first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant, days after it was first discovered in South Africa, and suffered a travel ban from some countries.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Wednesday announced it identified and confirmed three cases in individuals with travel history to South Africa.
Samples obtained for the stipulated day two test for all travellers to Nigeria were positive for this variant in these persons after the NCDC mounted genomic surveillance on inbound international travellers at the National Reference Laboratory (NRL), Abuja, and a network of other testing laboratories.
The disease police said it is now racing to complete sequencing of samples of coronavirus collected recently in positive travellers from all countries, particularly those that have reported the Omicron variant.
New travel rule
In the bid to beef up public health response against the new variant, the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 revised the national travel advisory to now require a negative COVID-19 test result done not more than 48hrs before departure from all inbound travelers to Nigeria.
All outbound passengers are also required to present evidence of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test done not later than 48 hours before departure.
“We appeal to Nigerians to adhere strictly to these travel protocols and other public safety measures to protect themselves, families, friends, the community at large and to prevent a fourth wave of COVID-19 in the country as we combat the pandemic and these emerging variants including the Delta variant,” the NCDC said in a statement signed Ifedayo Adetifa, director-general
Facts on Omicron
Omicron has now been identified in 22 countries with Nigeria and Brazil among the latest, as of Wednesday.
Conclusions on the severity of the variant have continued to generate mixed reactions, as doctors in South Africa, for instance, say the symptoms are unusual but extremely mild, while the US says it’s too soon to determine the severity.
Adrian Puren, the acting executive director of South Africa’s communicable disease institute said Omicron could be the most likely candidate to displace the highly contagious Delta variant, in terms of the rate of infection, in a report monitored by BusinessDay.
But it could be too early to say with less than 100 genomic sequences produced on it.
If Omicron proves even more transmissible than the Delta variant, it could lead to a sharp spike in infections that could put pressure on hospitals.
Puren said scientists should know within four weeks to what extent Omicron can evade the immunity generated by vaccines or prior infection, and whether it leads to worse clinical symptoms than other variants.
Anecdotal accounts by doctors who have treated South African COVID-19 patients say Omicron appears to be producing mild symptoms, including a dry cough, fever, and night sweats.
However, the United Nations has warned against the use of a travell ban to curb the spread, saying it is not effective.
Vaccination in Nigeria
In its recommendation to states, the NCDC urged that sample collection and testing remain widely accessible, for those exposed to be identified quickly.
It also called for increased vaccination to reduce community transmission, states should effectively implement ongoing mass vaccination campaigns and encourage citizens to take up vaccines.
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s vaccination course has been slack.
The country has only administered slightly over 9.6 million doses, with just 6.26 percent of its population covered, data from the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
Despite having over 21 million doses of vaccine supplies including AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna, the country suffers a 54.4 percent (11.5 million) gap in uptake.
This, amid a stock of vaccine supplies that is nowhere near adequate, and poor capacity for genomic surveillance nationwide underscores how ill-equipped the country is to tackle the latest COVID-19 strain if it turns out very violent.
The country still relies heavily on donated vaccines, which is more likely to decline as the new variant gives vaccine-producing countries new reasons to focus on themselves first.
On November 30, 105 new cases and one death brought the total to 214, 218 confirmed cases and 2,977 deaths recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Nigeria’s best bet could be to tighten surveillance at all borders and within communities and stop the disease on its track as experts have urged.