By Chioma Obinna
*… urges states to curb community transmission
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, on Wednesday confirmed the first 3 cases of Omicron variant in Nigeria.
The Omicron variant, also known as the B.1.1.529 lineage, was confirmed in travellers from South Africa who arrived in Nigeria.
In a press statement by the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, the Centre said in line with the routine travel test required of all international travellers and Genomic sequencing at the Centre through its National Reference Laboratory (NRL), Abuja and network of other testing laboratories confirmed Nigeria’s first case of the Omicron variant.
According to Adetifa, samples obtained for the stipulated day-two test for all travellers to Nigeria were positive for this variant in three persons with a history of travel to South Africa.
These cases, according to the NCDC Director-General, were recent arrivals in the country in the past week.
He said follow-up to ensure isolation, linkage to clinical care, contact tracing and other relevant response activities have commenced.
Also arrangements are also being made to notify the country where travel originated, according to the provisions of the International Health Regulations.
He said the NCDC assumes Omicron is widespread globally given the increasing number of countries reporting this variant and therefore, it is a matter of when, not if, we will identify more cases.
“We continue to expand our sequencing capacity in-country at the NCDC-NRL, through our network of public health laboratories and other partners.
“Our focus is to complete sequencing of recently accrued samples of SARS-COV-2 positive travellers from all countries, especially those from countries that have reported the Omicron variant already,” he noted.
He said since reports of the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Federal Ministry of Health, through the NCDC has intensified public health response measures to COVID-19 in Nigeria.
“The national travel advisory has also been revised by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 and now requires all inbound travellers to Nigeria to present a negative COVID-19 test result done not more than 48hrs before departure.
“Pre-booking and payment for all-day 2 and day 7 COVID-19 PCR tests are prerequisites for travel.
“In addition, all outbound passengers regardless of the requirements of destination countries are expected 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,” Adetifa stated.
He explained that according to preliminary findings in countries where this variant was earlier detected, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from other variants however, it may be more transmissible.
“There is still a lot to learn about this variant, and we continue to be guided by scientific evidence.
“Since the emergence of the Omicron variant in some parts of the world, the Federal Ministry of Health, FMOH, through NCDC with the guidance of the World Health Organisation, WHO, has intensified public health response measures to COVID-19 in Nigeria based on the assessment of the risk of spread of the virus.
“This includes there view of the national travel protocols by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 (PSC-COVID-19) has announced that travellers to Nigeria now must present a negative COVID-19 test result within 48 hrs before boarding.
“We appeal to Nigerians to adhere strictly to these travel protocols to prevent a fourth wave of COVID-19 in the country as we combat the pandemic and these emerging variants including the Delta variant.”
He noted that given the risk of increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, it was essential to curb community transmission.
The NCDC boss recommended that states should ensure sample collection and testing remain widely accessible so that people who have symptoms or have been exposed to a positive case get tested quickly in healthcare and other settings.
He said this can be achieved through increased COVID-19 testing using approved antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) that are being rolled out by the NCDC and partners as well as PCR-tests where applicable.
Adetifa explained that vaccination also reduces community transmission and States should effectively implement ongoing mass vaccination campaigns and encourage citizens to make use of every available opportunity to get a vaccination.
Speaking further, Adetifa added that continued transmission as seen in largely unvaccinated populations from which the new variant has emerged also encourages the emergence of newer and possibly more dangerous variants.
He, therefore, stated that interrupting transmission of the virus remains the country’s best defence against the virus and path to returning to normalcy.
“We can only achieve this through vaccination and adherence to the proven safety measures such as wearing face masks, regular hand washing and physical distancing.
“We appeal to business owners, religious leaders, and people in authority to take responsibility by ensuring people in their premises adhere to these measures.
“We strongly urge Nigerians to only share information from trusted sources including NCDC and the Federal Ministry of Health.
“Our safety as a country depends on our collective responsibility,” he stated.