A foremost professor of virology and former Vice-Chancellor of the Redeemer’s University, Ede, Oyewale Tomori has urged the Federal Government to temporarily restrict travels from South African countries following the discovery of a new strain of COVID-19 in the region.
The new B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant discovered first in South Africa was labelled Omicron by the World Health Organisation on Friday. The WHO also designated the strain a ‘variant of concern’.
According to experts, the new variant already has a high number of mutations with preliminary evidence suggesting it may have an increased risk of spreading faster compared to other variants.
Omicron has now been seen in travelers from the South African region to Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel.
Meanwhile, some countries have imposed travel bans on travellers from Southern African countries to prevent the importation of the new strain.
Britain has banned all travel from South Africa and five other southern African nations, namely Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and Zimbabwe starting from noon on Friday.
Israel also announced that it was barring its citizens from travelling to South Africa. The travel restriction for its citizens also included Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini.
Belgium and Saudi Arabia have also suspended flights to the Southern African countries.
According to the WHO, cases of the Omicron variant appear to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.
“Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as a marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.
“There are a number of studies underway and the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution will continue to evaluate this variant. WHO will communicate new findings with the Member States and to the public as needed.
“Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron,” the world health body said.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, Prof. Tomori said the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 should hold an emergency meeting to evaluate the available evidence on the variant.
“Meanwhile, Nigeria should temporarily restrict travels from Southern Africa, pending more information.
“In particular, activities at our points of entry should be carried out with efficiency and transparency.
“This is to ensure that samples from positive cases are sequenced rapidly in a nationally coordinated effort so as to rapidly detect any importation of the new variant,” he said.
He, however, warned against overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied but to prepare for the possible arrival of the variant,” he said.
Adding, Tomori said, “First, research is going on regarding the new variant, so all we have is speculation. However, we should not be worried, but be wary and prepare for the possible arrival of the variant,”
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, discouraged any travel bans on countries that reported the new variant. It said experience shows that such travel bans have ‘not yielded a meaningful outcome’.
Data from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency on Saturday shows that 3,554,507 of total eligible persons targeted for COVID-19 vaccination reached with second dose (fully vaccinated); representing 3.2 per cent of the overall population of eligible persons.
SOURCE: THE PUNCH