Omicron variant: Travel bans loom as Canada detects Nigeria-linked cases - PUNCH
BY Dayo Ojerinde, Deborah Tolu-Kolawole, Stephen Angulu, Solomon Odeniyi and Ada Wodu
Medical experts on Monday warned that Nigeria risked travel bans with Canada’s detection of Omicron variant of COVID-19 in two travellers from Nigeria.
Virologists, including the Chairman of the Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Professor Oyewale Tomori, who stated this in separate interviews with The PUNCH, lamented that the variant of the virus in Nigeria was detected in Canada.
Tomori berated the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control for its failure to coordinate genomic sequencing of samples of coronavirus obtained from laboratories across the country.
He said although there were laboratories, which could do the genomic sequencing of coronavirus in Nigeria, the NCDC had been bypassing them and taking samples to South Africa.
The PUNCH on Monday reported that the Canadian government announced that it detected cases of the omicron variant from two travellers from Nigeria.
Our correspondents learnt that it was through the genomics sequencing of the virus that the variant of the disease could be detected.
Genomic sequencing is a laboratory method that is used to determine the entire genetic makeup of a specific organism or cell type and changes in areas of the genome.
The Omicron variant, a newly discovered strain of the coronavirus disease, was first reported by the government of South Africa and later by other Southern African countries including Zimbabwe, Botswana and Malawi.
The variant has also been reported in the United Kingdom, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Belgium and Hong Kong.
On Monday, Canada said the variant had been detected in two travellers, who recently visited Nigeria.
Commenting on the development, Tomori in an interview with one of our correspondents took a swipe at the NCDC.
He stated, “In Nigeria, we have more than one laboratory available for genomic sequencing. The problem we are facing is poor leadership from the NCDC. They have failed to coordinate and collaborate and also organise a national network for effective sequencing in Nigeria. Recall that I mentioned that a foreign laboratory will intimate us of the presence of the Omicron variant.
“Some of our laboratories now send test samples outside Nigeria for genomic sequencing when the best thing to do is to coordinate and collaborate.
“Six months ago, our committee sent a proposal to the government on the issue of genomics sequencing. We told them to organise a national network of genomics sequencing, and put NCDC as the coordinator. But what happened ? They refused. The NCDC said they were the only ones who are charged with sequencing so because the NCDC has control of the laboratories.
Sending samples shows NCDC lacks national pride, it’s disgraceful – Tomori
“ They stopped sending samples to the other five genomic laboratories, but they will send to South Africa. This takes a lot of time but it is not just about the time, but the disgrace and absence of national pride, especially when you have similar facilities in your country.”
When asked if the country might risk a travel ban, he said, “Why not? if it does not come with the cases identified from Nigeria, I will be shocked.
A professor of medical virology, University of Maiduguri, Marycelin Baba in a separate interview with our correspondent agreed with Tomori.
It’s a disgrace that Canada alerted us about presence of Omicron in Nigeria – Expert
She said, “Nigeria definitely risks travel bans . The government of Indonesia banned us even before the announcement of the variant by the Canadian government. The announcement could only mean one thing and that is the fact that the variant is already in our midst.
“It is however a thing of shame that we were notified of the presence of the virus by a foreign government and the NCDC is still saying we do not have the variant yet. At this point all we can advocate is speedy vaccination. We do not know if the variant is deadly or not but at least let people get vaccinated”.
Also, a professor of Community Medicine and Public Health, Adesegun Fatusi, stressed the importance of increased testing, saying this would help in curbing the spread of the virus.
Adesegun, who is also the Vice Chancellor of the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo, told one of our correspondents on Monday that it was evident that the Omicron virus was circulating in Nigeria.
He said, “It is not just about Omicron variant, but any variant, and all variants. We should improve access to testing. More importantly, we should step up preventive actions.
“With two cases detected among Nigerian passengers, it implies that the variant is already circulating in Nigeria.”
On his part, a Medical Virologist at the Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, Dr. Oladipo Kolawole, said it was time for the country to wake up and test more people to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
“The government should wake up from their sleep in terms of testing; we need to test more and more efforts should be intensified on the molecular epidemiology with more sequencing capability. Then the government should establish more sequencing and genomics analysis hub across the country, this will help a lot.”
FG threatens stiffer punishment for those with fake vaccination card
But the Chairman Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, vowed that the Federal Government would decisively deal with anyone found with fake COVID-19 test result, travel certificates among others at the nations point of entering.
Mustapha who frowned on the increasing number of those involved said those engaged in this act were endangering the lives of others.
He spoke during the national briefing on COVID-19 on Monday in Abuja.
Mustapha said, “The PSC is aware of some travellers who have resolved to circumvent the travel protocols by providing fake COVID-19 Test Results, Permit to Travel Certificates or declaring fake vaccination status at our Points of Entry. The weight of the law is heavy and will come hard on these people. You would be amazed at the availability and procurement of these certificates. The danger to which we are all put is unquantifiable.”
Despite opposition, he insisted that the vaccine mandate for civil servants would be enforced from December 1.
On the new variant, he said the PSC was reviewing the situation around the world and putting in place measures to curtail the impact of the variant on the country, urging Nigerians to be vigilant in practice and enforcement of preventive measures.
Mustapha also said the impasse between Nigeria and United Arab Emirates flights had been resolved in the interest of both parties, adding that a date for the commencement of flights between the two countries would be announced in due course.
Also speaking, the Executive Director Of National Primary Health Care Development Agency Dr. Faisal Shuaib said as of Monday 6,504,043 eligible persons have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 3,586,812 persons have been fully vaccinated.
He added that so far over 30million doses of the vaccines are at hand, while another 60 million has been committed before the first quarter of 2022.
Shuaib also disclosed that the committee commenced office-to-office vaccination in Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies, adding that civil servants would be tested at random to ascertain their true vaccination status.
“To further ease access to COVID-19 vaccines by Government employees, we have also commenced office-to-office vaccination in Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
“What this simply means is that employees who are yet to be vaccinated will find a vaccination site around their offices to register and get vaccinated. This will help in preventing the excuse of having to leave their place of employment to a distant vaccination site.
From time to time, civil servants will be picked at random to check or assess their COVID-19 antibody in order to detect persons who fraudulently acquired the vaccination cards without vaccination. Anyone found culpable be handed over to the law enforcement authorities. “
Shuaib listed Ogun, Nasarawa, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti as the states with the highest vaccination rate.
The Head of Technical Secretariat, Mukhtar Muhammad said the PSC is reviewing risks and taking necessary steps to prevent the variant of concern from being imported into the country, he added that a new travel guideline would be issued today.
He said the Federal Government was still waiting for the Canadian government to send the names of the two Nigerians that tested positive to the Omicron COVID-19 strain.
FG awaits details of Nigerians who tested positive in Canada
Muhammad noted that there are no direct flights from Nigeria to Canada and therefore wondered how the two Nigerians tested positive.
“We are waiting for the Canadian authorities to give us full details. There are no direct flights from Nigeria to Canada. We do not know which other countries these passengers transited in. It is likely if their journey emanated from here, they would have had a negative PCR test,” he said.
The incident manager, however, argued that a Nigerian testing positive abroad after testing negative at home, was not an indictment on the authorities.
He argued that when a person is tested too early in the course of an infection, the result could be inaccurate.
“This is not a one way phenomenon when you look at the data of people arriving from other countries to Nigeria. The UK has the highest number of positive tests that are detected here on arrival after departure from the UK with a negative test. We have people testing positive from the US and a whole lot of destinations. Every test has performance characteristics.
“If you test anyone too early in the course of their infection, you may get a negative result and it might be that two or three days after a person has arrived and there has been multiplication of this virus, then you detect it. So, this is a well established phenomenon across the world. It is not a failure of Nigerian testing.”
He also admitted that Nigeria’s capacity for genome sequencing was still not as strong as that of South Africa.
Muhammed stated, “Yes, we do not have the capacity for Genome sequencing as the South Africans do. But I think what I need to remind you of is that before COVID-19, we were at basically zero. And now with a few of the labs in the Genomic Surveillance Network, we have almost 10 labs that are sequencing and depositing sequences in the public database.
“Our challenge at the moment is not how to sequence because there is excess capacity in the network. Our problem is that if we do not test and we do not identify enough positive samples meeting the criteria for selection for sequencing, then you have no samples to sequence. So that is the issue.”
U.S, Rwanda, Netherlands, others list of countries with travel ban on S’Africa, Ramaphosa arrives Nigeria today
The United States of America, Rwanda, the Netherlands among others have joined the list of countries that have imposed a travel ban on South Africa following the discovery of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus disease.
Following the announcement of the new strain on Friday, the United Kingdom placed a travel bans on South Africa and five other African countries as a precautionary measure to contain the spread of the virus.
Similarly, the European Union which comprises of 27 countries slammed a travel ban on the region, this was followed by Israel, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, United States of America, Japan, Seychelles, France, Germany, Rwanda, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Philippines.
The PUNCH reports that the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa would arrive Nigeria today amidst threat of a new strain of COVID-19.
Ramaphosa according to Presidency sources, Ramaphosa would be treated to a presidency dinner at the Presidential villa.
He has also been scheduled to hold talks with Buhari on Wednesday. This is as experts warn that the visit could portray danger if the delegates do not follow proper COVID-19 protocols.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian army has urged residents in the Federal Capital Territory not to panic at the sound of gunshot between today and Wednesday.
According to a statement released by the assistant director of public relations, captain Godfrey Abakpa, a total of 21 gun salutes would be fired to welcome the South African President.
Ayade cancels Calabar carnival, cites new COVID-19 variant
Meanwhile, the Cross River State Governor, Professor Ben Ayade, has cancelled this year’s Carnival Calabar due to the Omicron variant.
He made the announcement on Monday at a stakeholders’ meeting in the Executive Chamber of the Governor’s office initially held to unveil the theme of the carnival.
Announcing the cancellation of the carnival at the meeting attended by carnival band leaders, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Eteng Jones Williams, members of the state Executive Council, local government chairmen from the 18 Council areas of the state, Ayade cited the health concerns caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 variant, Omicron and the prevailing security situation as reasons for the cancellation.