December 21, 2021

COVID-19: Bracing for Omicron variant

COVID-19: Bracing for Omicron variant

IT is now conventional wisdom to see the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, in the same light as the “common flu”: it is here to stay. In cold countries, people take the vaccine every year to protect against annually-mutating flu.

At this time last year, Nigerians were beginning to relax from the first wave of the virus which forced the world into lock-downs.

The onset of the second wave came at the beginning of the Yuletide festive season, which probably accounted for the many high-profile casualties.

The highly infectious Delta variant also followed. Just as this is ebbing, the world is served another grim notice of the outbreak of a more vicious strain of COVID-19: the Omicron variant.

We are effectively at the verge of the fourth wave. This variant, which was first detected in South Africa on November 9, 2021, was reported to the World Health Organisation, WHO, two weeks later on November 24.  Experts say Omicron is highly mutative and there are fears that even those who have been doubly vaccinated might still fall seriously ill if infected.

South Africa, which just weeks ago had an average of 417 weekly confirmed cases, reported a frightening weekly spike of 3,459 on Thursday, November 26, 2021.

Many countries, out of panic, have already temporarily banned flights from South Africa and surrounding countries: Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Eswatini and Lesotho.

In addition to these countries, the US also added Malawi and Mozambique. Despite that, a few cases of the Omicron variant have already been isolated in the UK and parts of the European Union.

For us in Nigeria, the onset of this Omicron variant at the verge of the Christmas season which is marked by heavy travels for the family and community reunions, is greatly worrisome.

A lot of our Diaspora elements who could not return last year due to the pandemic lock-downs will likely be home this year. This may trigger a new infection wave in Nigeria.

It is time for us to snap out of our slumber and return to the trenches. We should not be carried away by the very light numbers of confirmed cases (over 214,000) and even fatalities (2,926).

With only 3.46 million Nigerians (1.7 per cent) fully vaccinated, Nigeria is potentially vulnerable to the highly mutative and virulent powers of the Omicron variant.

The Federal Government should immediately join the bandwagon and temporarily ban flights from the affected Southern African countries and ask inbound travellers to compulsorily quarantine when deemed necessary.

The citizens must know that they are their own greatest protectors against infection. The standard COVID-19 rules— handwashing/sanitisation, mask wearing in public, social distancing and others – must be fully applied. Let us not be caught off-guard.