Omicron Variant: FG advised to ban travels from South Africa

Omicron is said to be one the most-troubling category of COVID-19 variants.

The Federal Government has been advised by renowned virologists to swiftly make moves to address the B.1.1.529 strain of COVID-19, that was first detected in South Africa.

The virologists include the Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof Oyewale Tomori; ex-National Chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, Prof Tanimola Akande; and a Professor of Medical Virology at the University of Maiduguri, Prof Marycelin Baba.

In separate interviews with Punch, the medical experts warned that Nigeria could slip into the fourth wave of COVID-19, as Christmas and New Year festivities approach.

Raising concern on the new COVID-19 strain, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday, November 26, 2021, named the disease Omicron and declared it to be a variant of concern.

“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 health agency said in a statement.

Omicron is said to be one the most-troubling category of COVID-19 variants.

The new variant has also been detected in Israel in a person coming from Malawi; Botswana; Belgium and Hong Kong.

It is the fifth variant of COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2019.

However, in a bid to address the spread of Omicron, Britain, the United States and the European Union have already banned flights from Southern Africa.

According to the WHO, it could take several weeks to complete studies of Omicron to see if there are any changes in transmissibility, severity or implications for COVID vaccines, tests and treatments.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,”

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs.” the WHO said.

While some countries have banned travelers from South Africa, where Omicron was first discovered, Nigeria is yet to make moves to address the possible incursion of the disease.

The Federal Government has, however, been slammed for being tardy in shutting down the four international airports while other countries were closing theirs as result of the disease outbreak in South Africa.

Describing the delay as a ‘disaster’ waiting to happen, Tomori said, “Given our porous border and free for all poorly guarded points of entry, plus uncoordinated genetic sequencing practice, efficient surveillance backed by laboratory support puts South Africa way ahead of us.

“Given our state of performance, it will probably take months after the new variant case has arrived in Nigeria before we detect it. By then, it would have spread all over the country so why should we not put them on alert?

“At this point, we need to keep the PSC on, as long as COVID is on, improve and upgrade genetic sequencing, get our points of entry up and doing and not a point of escape of variants into Nigeria, improve contact tracing, test people on arrival and do an efficient and effective contact tracing and follow up.”

Also, Baba called on the FG to do the needful, saying, “this is not the time for the delay as delays could be dangerous. We really need to act on time, other countries are already making moves.”

On his part, Akande advised the FG and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to learn from past experience.

Every country will be worried and will like to prevent as much as possible importation of the new Omicron variant. Federal Government already has policies and guidelines on travel restrictions and the issue of health security.

“I am sure NCDC and other relevant stakeholders will soon come up with directives on this after weighing the pros and cons of travel bans. In taking decisions lessons learnt from previous measures particularly travel will give good guidance.

“Measures taken by countries like UK, Italy and other European countries are country-specific. These countries are already battling with a heavy burden of the 4th COVID-19 wave. I, therefore, think these countries are taking positions that are to their own interest.” he said.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria in February 2020, Nigeria has recorded about four strains of the infection, with over 213,000 cases and about 3,000 associated fatalities.

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