…Urges states to introduce measures to curb community transmission
…Canada bans travellers from Nigeria, Egypt, Malawi
…FG effects vaccine mandate policy, bars unvaccinated staff from offices
…As mad rush characterizes vaccination
By Chioma Obinna & Joseph Erunke
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, yesterday confirmed the first 3 cases of Omicron variant of COVID-19 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 on a day the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, arrived the country on an official visit.
This came as Canada has also banned travellers from Nigeria, Egypt, and Malawi over fears of spread of the new variant, bringing to 10 the number of African countries targeted by Ottawa.
This is even as the Federal Government yesterday began enforcement of its began vaccine mandate policy for its employees, barring them from accessing their work places without proof of vaccination.
Director-General of NCDC, Dr. Ifedayo Adefila, who broke news of the presence of Omicron in Nigeria yesterday, said in line with the routine travel test required of all international travellers and genomic sequencing at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, through Its National Reference Laboratory, NRL, Abuja and network of other testing laboratories confirmed Nigeria’s first case of the Omicron variant, also known as the B.1.1.529 lineage.
According to him, 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 boss, 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 had commenced, adding that arrangements were also being made to notify the country where travellers originated according to the provisions of International Health Regulations, IHR.
Adefila said NCDC assumed Omicron was widespread globally, given the increasing number of countries reporting the variant and that it was a matter of when, not if, more cases would be identified in the country.
He said: “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 said since reports of the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Federal Ministry of Health, through the NCDC, had intensified public health response measures to COVID-19 in the country.
“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 48 hours 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 was insufficient evidence to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron were different from other variants, adding, however, that it might be more transmissible.
According to him, there is still a lot to learn about the Omicron variant, which requires the guidance of scientific evidence.
He noted also that 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, had 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 hours 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 added.
While noting that given the risk of increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, it was essential to curb community transmission, Adefila recommended that states should ensure sample collection and testing remained widely accessible so that people who had symptoms or had been exposed to a positive case got tested quickly in healthcare and other settings.
He said this could be achieved through increased COVID-19 testing, using approved antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests, RDTs, being rolled out by the NCDC and partners as well as PCR-tests where applicable.
Adetifa explained that vaccination also reduces community transmission, recommending that states should effectively implement ongoing mass vaccination campaigns and encourage citizens to make use of every available opportunity to get vaccinated.
Speaking further, he added that continued transmission as seen in largely unvaccinated populations from which the new variant had emerged also encouraged the emergence of newer and possibly more dangerous variants.
Noting that interrupting transmission of the virus remained the country’s best defence against the virus and path to returning to normalcy, Adefila said: “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.’’
In a similar development, Canada on Tuesday banned travellers from Nigeria, Egypt, and Malawi over fears of the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, bringing to 10 the number of African countries targeted by Ottawa.
“Foreign nationals who have transited or stayed in these 10 countries cannot enter Canada if they have been in those countries in the last two weeks,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, told a press conference. The measure took effect yesterday.
According to Duclos, any Canadians or permanent residents who have been in any of the 10 countries will need to quarantine on arrival and take a COVID test.
“In the coming days, all air travellers arriving from outside Canada, apart from the United States, will now need to be tested for COVID-19 at their point of entry, and isolated until their test results are available,’’ he added.
First reported to the WHO less than a week ago after being detected in Southern Africa earlier in November, the Omicron variant has appeared in well over a dozen countries, stoking global fears about a coronavirus pandemic that had killed more than five million people and savaged economies worldwide.
“The pandemic is not over,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra added. “Travel measures could change at any moment.”
Canada last Friday banned entry to all travelers from seven Southern African countries, including Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
On Sunday, Canada confirmed it had detected its first cases of the new Omicron strain, in two people who had traveled recently to Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government yesterday began enforcing its vaccine mandate policy for its employees by barring them from accessing their work places without proof of vaccination.
Government’s action began on the day it had directed its staff from grade level 12 and below who had been working from home, following outbreak of COVID-19, to resume work.
Recall that a circular signed by the Head of Service of the Federation, Folasade Yemi-Esan, dated November 26, 2021, had explained that the vaccine mandate policy was in line with the recommendation of the Presidential Steering Committee, PSC, on COVID-19.
Consequently, workers who resumed work at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, yesterday, were stopped by security agents from entering their offices without proof that they had been vaccinated.
Those who presented proof of vaccination or negative PCR tests were allowed into the complex, while those without proof on the other hand, were denied access.
The implementation of the policy by the government has caused a surge at the various designated centres within the city centres as the affected staff rushed to be vaccinated.
While a large number of staff were seen still hanging around the area at press time, some other were seen returning to their homes in en masse.
The Boss Mustapha-led presidential steering committee on COVID-19 had directed that civil servants without proof of vaccination and negative PCR tests would not be allowed to access government buildings from December 1, 2021.
This had attracted the attention of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria which appealed to government to shift the deadline to March, 2022.
However, the appeal failed.