Renowned virologists on Sunday faulted the decision of the Federal Government not to test the South African delegates on their arrival in the country on Monday (today) despite the newly discovered strain of the coronavirus tagged the “Omicron variant” in Southern Africa.
The virologists, including the Chairman, Expert review Committee on COVID-19, Professor Oyewale Tomori, made their positions known in separate interviews with The PUNCH on Sunday.
They also warned that failure to test the delegates on arrival might lead to a “disaster”
The PUNCH reports that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari(retd.) is expected to receive the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa and other top government functionaries of his administration, who are scheduled to undertake a three-day visit to Nigeria between November 29(today) and December 1.
The World Health Organisation had on Friday declared the new COVID-19 strain first discovered in South Africa to be a variant of concern and renamed it Omicron.
The classification puts Omicron into the most-troubling category of COVID-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta, plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.
“Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in Covid-19 epidemiology… the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern, named Omicron,” the UN health agency had said in a statement.
Nations including Britain and the United States have banned flights from Southern African to slow the spread of Omicron, even as the South African government said it was being punished over what it described as a false alarm.
The WHO said it could take several weeks to complete studies of Omicron to see if there are any changes in transmissibility, severity or implications for COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.
Omicron is about the fifth variant of COVID-19 discovered and named since the outbreak of the pandemic about two years ago.
The variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on Wednesday. The first known confirmed Omicron infection was from a specimen collected on November 9. In recent weeks, infections in South Africa have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said, pointing to worrying characteristics.
“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs.”
Apart from South Africa, Omicron has been detected in Israel in a person coming from Malawi; Botswana; Belgium and Hong Kong.
Nigeria has recorded about four COVID-19 strains with over 213,000 cases and about 3,000 associated fatalities since the index case of lethal virus in the country last year February.
S’African delegates to present negative PCR test results – FG
As regards the visit by Ramaphosa and his delegates, Muhammed on Sunday said, “All the delegates who are coming need to have their PCR tests 72 hours before they arrive Nigeria and they must also have their double vaccination before they are allowed into Nigeria.
“They would be tested on day two to make sure they do not have COVID-19. Anyone who tests positive, we have an agreement with the South African commission to isolate them in line with COVID-19 protocols.
Isolate, test delegates on arrival or postpone visit, says Tomori
But the Chairman, expert review committee on COVID-19, Tomori in an interview with one of our correspondents faulted the Federal Government for not planning a test on arrival schedule for the South African delegates.
He said, “If we do the right thing, the visit poses no threat. We need to test the delegates on arrival for COVID positivity. Put all of them, I mean all arrivals in self -isolation for a specific period of time. If any of them comes out positive, let them be admitted in the isolation ward. If we feel these are not doable then postpone the visit”.
A Professor of Medical virology at the University of Maiduguri, Professor Marycelin Baba in a separate interview with one of our correspondents also agreed with Tomori.
According to Baba, any delay in testing on arrival might create further problems.
“This is not the time to delay, we need to test on arrival, waiting till the second day might lead to problem. Now if you say you want to wait till the second day before testing, do you know if the person is positive ? There are still Investigations as regards this new variant so no one really knows anything. We need to be extra vigilant. Please let them be tested on arrival.
Another expert, Professor Oladapo Ashiru, in a separate interview with The PUNCH also added that the COVID-19 protocols must commence at the airport.
“Protocols must start from the border controls, the airport, mask, social distancing, hygiene, testing and vaccination.
“If protocols are delayed, it can lead to a wider spread. It is hoped that those on the entourage have been vaccinated, and need to be screened at the airport before boarding.
“Yesterday, it was reported that dozens of people on the South Africa to the Netherlands bound flight tested positive to COVID-19. So far in Nigeria we have been reasonably lucky. The effect of the Pandemic is not severe. We must double our efforts in observing all the safety protocols needed to prevent the spread of the virus or its variant.
Another expert, Professor Tanimola Akande, in a separate interview with The PUNCH said, “The most important thing at this point is not to import the virus into the country. There are guidelines, let all the guidelines be fully adhered to. We know they won’t travel if they have the virus but please let us still follow the guidelines.”
Another expert, Professor Georgina Odaibo, said, “Who says the virus is not within us already. It is true that we do not have a reported case, we don’t know where it came from before it got to South Africa. It is more of making sure that we don’t let our guards down. As far as non-pharmaceutical protocols are followed; the virus is here and we know that it has been mutating and it will continue to mutate, it is also looking for ways to mutate. We need to make sure that we follow all guidelines.”
Meanwhile, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Professor Innocent Ujah, in an interview with The PUNCH said Nigeria should worry about protecting the masses than having fears over the visit of the South African President.
“It is better to protect ourselves than to say president of South Africa should not come to Nigeria because of omicron. Is there evidence that he is positive to the virus? My belief is that once we obey the protocols it will not be transmissible, so we need to be cautious about it.
When asked if Federal Government and Nigerians are taking enough measures to prevent the spread of the strains, Uja expressed deep concern about incalcitrant of Nigerians to COVID 19.
He said, “You know that there are some Nigerians that don’t think COVID 19 exist, secondly, some people claimed to have cure for it (COVID) as we know that Nigerians have cure for every sickness provided they can get money from it.
“Nigerians are recalcitrant and you cannot blame government for that , initially, we said National Orientation Agency should sensitise people and do awareness creation but our people still give other reasons they cannot comply with protocols.
A medical virologist at the Adeleke University, Ede, Dr. Oladipo Kolawole, stressed the need to the South African contingents to Nigeria to get tested before boarding the flight to the country.
Kolawole, in an interview with one of our correspondent on Sunday said the issue of testing them on the second day could be considered if all the contingents were fully vaccinated.
“Testing on arrival should be part of the protocol, although they ought to have carried out the pre-flight COVID-19 test before boarding.
“The testing on the second day is part of the criteria being considered if they are fully vaccinated against the virus. Also, this will not have anything to do with the transmission of the virus; the flight is not a public /commercial flight, therefore, there is nothing or little to worry about. Likewise such delegates are expected to be fully vaccinated,” the expert said.
Don’t penalise Africa – Adesina
Adesina, in a series of tweets on Sunday said Africa was not the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that itshould not be penalised for new variants, urging for global justice, equity, and fairness in access to vaccines.
“Africa should not be labelled and penalized for COVID-19 variants and mutations that occur randomly elsewhere in the world. Africa is not the source of COVID-19,” he tweeted.
“There must be global justice, equity & fairness in access to vaccines. Global vaccine supply system has underserved Africa. Protecting one’s home alone in the midst of a forest fire does not work. Put out the forest fire.
“Africa must accelerate the manufacturing of its own vaccines & set up its own “healthcare security defence system”. Africa must no longer outsource health security of its 1.8 billion people to the benevolence of others.” ,,
SOURCE: THE PUNCH