The Federal Government on Thursday announced Sept. 5 as the date for the full resumption of international flights into the country.

…Say Nigeria doesn’t need to follow western world in making decision

….Indonesia bans arrivals from Nigeria, 7 others as Omicron variant spreads

….Morocco halts all incoming flights

Africa shouldn’t be punished over new variants — Adesina, AfDB boss

Travel ban will affect global solidarity — WHO

By Sola Ogundipe, Health Editor, Chioma Obinna, Joseph Erunke & Gabriel Olawale

Infectious disease experts yesterday disagreed with the banning of flights from Southern African countries, stating that such a move would be counter-productive for Nigeria, especially  as there is not much information on the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron.

The experts’ position  came on a day the Indonesia  government placed a ban on entry travellers who had been in eight African countries, including Nigeria and extended quarantine times for all arrivals to curb spread of the new variant.

However, President of  African Development Bank, AfDB, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, decried the ban placed by most European countries on African countries, following the new variant of the virus, advising world leaders not to label or penalise African nations for the new COVID-19 variants and mutations occuring across the world.

The experts, who spoke with Vanguard in separate conversations urged the Federal Government to strengthen the country‘s genomic surveillance and ‘’mapping’’ up of possible variants in the country.

Flight bans, temporary prevention measure — NIDS president

President of Nigerian Infectious Diseases Society, NIDS, Prof. Dimie Ogoina, said history had shown that flight bans could only prevent new variants temporarily as the world is now a global village.

Ogoina said the challenges with Nigeria are numerous, saying the country is not certain of the types of variants in the country, while points of entry are not so secured.

“If you look at the ban imposed by most countries, they allow their citizens to enter the country and it’s possible for citizens to bring the variant into the country. What we need to be worried about is how secure our points of entry.

“Restriction is not something you can sustain for long; also you cannot restrict your people from coming back home, and so if you restrict others, your own people will bring the variant to the country. What we need to do is to improve surveillance at the points of entry.

“The challenge we have in Nigeria is that we are not even sure of the variants we have in our country, so we are not sure whether the new variant is already with us. So putting a travel ban in a country where we don’t even know the spectrum of variants we have may not be a right approach.

“The World Health Organisation did not encourage immediate travel restriction because evidence shows that travel restriction has not necessarily stopped the spread of variants and if you look at the variants that have emerged over time, they started from one country or the other and got to every country of the world, despite travel restrictions.

“Signs and risk are two major factors you take into consideration before you place travel ban on another country because of variants. What we need to do is to improve our surveillance at points of entry, so we can easily detect cases, isolate and treat patients.

‘Need to improve genomic surveillance’

“Also we need to improve our genomic surveillance, so we can know the type of variants we have in our country and take appropriate action. One thing that is very clear about this new variant is that the rate of person-to-person infection is very high.

“So we need to increase our testing and vaccination capacity; also, our non-pharmaceutical measures because it’s very sad that less than three percent of eligible population have been vaccinated.’’

We need detailed analysis of new variant — NMA

In his reaction, President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Professor Innocent Ujah, said the country should channel more efforts in getting detailed analysis about the new variant before considering restriction of any sort.

According to him, it may be advisable to also restrict movement from that part of the countries where the new variant is raging but there is need for Nigeria to get its data right before such action.

“Our scientists need to study the progress of the variants and make informed decision. We cannot ban without adequate knowledge and information, we should embrace non- pharmaceutical procedures and our testing capability must be improved as well as our disease surveillance, “he stated.

Similarly, an infectious disease physician in the University of Lagos and Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Dr. Iorhen Akase, said banning flights is not the way to go as the variant might already be in the country.

Rather, he said the country needs to strengthen its surveillance and increase testing because lock-downs or flight bans were hurting people more than the pandemic itself.

“We don’t need to emulate some countries that are banning flights. It’s very sad that they make Africa the target. The argument most countries make is that we have weak epidemiology system and we do not track movement of variants.

“At this point in the fight against COVID-19, I don’t think we should take such decision. What we need to do is to strengthen our genomic surveillance and mapping. What are those variants we are getting from the recent cases?

“If Nigeria is going to ban flights from Southern Africa or Turkey, we don’t need to follow western world in making such a decision, we need to take action based on our own data.

“The method working in Western world may not necessarily work for us and may be counter-productive. We need to generate our own data and take decisions based on the outcome that is best for us. Our earlier decision was based on what is happening in Europe which data clearly shows that what happened in Africa is different.

“That shows that our peculiarities are different. We can’t just replicate western decision to our Africa setup. We need to generate our own data and decide what works for us as a country. We have some kind of genomic capability we should build on that,” he added

Africa shouldn’t be punished over new variants — Akinwumi Adesina

Speaking on the issue yesterday, President of African Development Bank, AfDB, Akinwunmi Adesina,  advised world leaders not to label or penalise African nations for new COVID-19 variants and mutations happening across the world.

In a series of tweets, he said Africa is not the source of the COVID-19 pandemic and should not be penalised for new variants, urging for global justice, equity, and fairness in access to vaccines.

“Africa should not be labelled and penalised for COVID-19 variants and mutations that occur randomly elsewhere in the world. Africa is not the source of COVID-19.

‘’There must be global justice, equity & fairness in access to vaccines. Global vaccine supply system has under-served Africa. Protecting one’s home alone in the midst of a forest fire does not work. Put out the forest fire.

“Africa must accelerate the manufacturing of its own vaccines  and set up its own “healthcare security defence system”. Africa must no longer outsource health security of its 1.8 billion people to the benevolence of others,’’ he tweeted.

Omicron variant: Indonesia bans arrivals from Nigeria, 7 others as variant spreads

Similarly, the  Indonesia government said yesterday that from today, it will ban entry of travellers who have been in eight African countries, including Nigeria.

It also extended quarantine times for all arrivals to curb the spread of the new variant.

The ban extends to people who have been in South Africa,  Nigeria, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Eswatini in the past 14 days.

READ ALSO: Omicron Covid-19 not in Nigeria yet; we’ve ramped up surveillance — FG

However, the government said  delegates attending G20 meetings, which Indonesia chairs, will not be affected.

The new Omicron variant, also known as B.1.1.529 variant, is said to be highly transmissible and the ‘most concerning’ since the Delta variant outbreak.

The Indonesian Coordinating Minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, who disclosed this at a briefing, said the restriction  would be evaluated every two weeks.

He said:  “Omicron has spread to more countries, so to respond to these developments, today (yesterday), the government wants to carry out the following policies.

‘’Indonesian citizens entering Indonesia from the listed African countries and Hong Kong will also now have to quarantine in designated facilities for 14 days. All other travellers entering the country will have to quarantine for seven days, compared to three days previously.’’

In a similar move, Morocco said it is also suspending all incoming air travel from around the world from today for two weeks because of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry announced that the decision was taken to “preserve the achievements realized by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens.”

Travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity, WHO warns

Reacting to the ban placed on some African countries as a result of the Omicron variant, the World Health Organisation, WHO, warned that putting in place travel bans that target Africa was an attack on global solidarity.

Giving the warning in a press statement yesterday, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said travel restrictions might play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but placed a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.

Moeti said:  “With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity.

“COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions.   If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations.”

Moeti commended the transparency of South African and Botswana for sharing life-saving public health information.

“The speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in informing the world of the new variant is to be commended. WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to boldly share life-saving public health information, helping protect the world against the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

Moeti disclosed that nations would be joining a special session of the World Health Assembly to discuss how to collectively prepare and respond better to pandemics, building on their commitments to the International Health Regulations.

She urged all countries to respect their legal obligations and implement scientifically based public health actions.

“It is critical that countries which are open with their data are supported as this is the only way to ensure we receive important data in a timely manner.

“While investigations continue into the Omicron variant, WHO recommends countries to take a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place measures which can limit its possible spread.

‘’Flight bans have been imposed on Southern African countries, but so far, only two have detected the new variant. Meanwhile, countries in other regions have reported cases of Omicron.”

WHO said it was scaling up support to genomic sequencing in Africa. ‘’Sequencing laboratories should have access to adequate human resources and testing reagents to work at full capacity.

“WHO is ready to support the additional human resource needs as well as mobilize funds and technical expertise to reinforce COVID-19 response activities, including surveillance, treatment and infection prevention and community engagement in Southern African countries,’’ Moeti added.

*Says investigation shows ‘Omicron’ has increased risk of reinfection

Meanwhile, Who has said preliminary evidence suggests that the new COVID-19 variant,  B.1.1.529, named ‘Omicron, had an increased risk of reinfection.

It also stated that several labs had indicated that for one widely used  polymerase chain reaction, PCR test, one of the three target genes, was not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure), adding that this test could, therefore, be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation.

WHO said using this approach; the variant had been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that the variant might have a growth advantage.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs,” WHO had said in a statement, classifying Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern, VOC,”WHO said.

The designation of the variant came, following advice from the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if specific mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behaviour of the virus.

Countries that have imposed bans

Among countries which have imposed travel ban in wake of Omicron outbreak include the United States, Canada, Russia, Australia,Japan, Saudi Arabia and the European Union restricting travel for visitors from the affected regions.

The United States imposed travel prohibition from the region, with exceptions for US citizens and permanent residents and for a few other categories, including spouses and other close family.

Canada and Brazil have also imposed similar travel restrictions for Southern Africa, where a new COVID strain labelled a “variant of concern”.

Britain and EU countries introduced travel restrictions on Friday, some within hours of learning of the variant with EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, asserting that flights will have to “be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant, and travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.”

Saudi Arabia, and Japan, also suspended flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mo-zambique, Lesotho and Eswatini and imposed quarantine rules for arriving nationals over concerns related to the new coronavirus variant.

Australia has also banned flights from nine Southern African countries, tightening its borders again to prevent the entry of the Omicron variant.

Although much remains to be learned about the new variant, researchers are concerned that it may be more resistant to the protection provided by vaccines.

The Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) was first  identified in South Africa, but also detected in Europe and Asia is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.

Meanwhile, cases of the Omicron variant had been confirmed in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands Australia and the UK in the past 24 hours as countries begin to reimpose travel restrictions.

The Dutch authorities yesterday confirmed that 13 passengers on a flight from South Africa tested positive for the mutant strain.

This means that at least 10 countries have confirmed cases, with several others investigating suspected instances.

It comes after Belgium became the first European country to announce it had identified the strain on Friday, while health officials in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic have identified suspected Omicron cases.

It has sparked a new wave of travel restrictions, with further countries likely to bring in measures to limit the spread of the variant.

Experts across the world are scrambling to determine whether Omicron is more deadly and whether it evades vaccines.

News of the variant’s spread have prompted alarm among world leaders, with Israel bringing in a blanket ban on international travellers.

The variant has now been detected in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

Airlines, passengers and businesses are also scrambling to respond to a deluge of travel restrictions announced over the weekend to slow the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.

An initial spate of flight bans from southern Africa, where omicron was first detected, gave way to more wide-ranging measures that will make travel more expensive and less convenient — if possible at all — recalling earlier days in the pandemic.

Airlines now face a return to the uncertainty of shifting rules and public-health developments that threw customer plans into chaos and undermined demand earlier in the pandemic.

British Airways, for example, halted flights  to Hong Kong through at least November 30 after one employee tested positive for COVID-19 and staff were sent into quarantine. The airline said it’s keeping its operations under review as the situation evolves.

Singapore and Japan are among countries that have said they’re considering tighter border restrictions.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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