Omicron Variant: Ban Travels From S’Africa, Others, Experts Tell FG
Renowned virologists in Nigeria have called on the Federal Government to be swift in its emergency response to the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 strain of COVID-19, first detected in South Africa.
The virologists, including 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, made this known while speaking with newsmen, yesterday.
They warned that tardiness on the part of the government could make the nation slip into the fourth wave of COVID-19, especially as the Christmas and New Year festivities approach.
This is as the Secretary to the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Dr Muktar Muhammed, said that the Federal Government would monitor trends before taking necessary decisions, including the possible imposition of flight ban on southern African countries.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had, last 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, the United States and the European Union 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 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, last 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.”
It said the number of Omicron cases appeared to be increasing in almost all provinces of South Africa.
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.
In June, 2021, the Federal Government added travellers from South Africa to the list of countries banned from flying into Nigeria due to the Delta COVID-19 variant which spread fast in the country.
Nigeria’s first reported case of COVID-19 was in February 2020 when an Italian man who travelled from Milan to Lagos through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport came down with the virus.
Many critics had slammed the Federal Government for being tardy in shutting down the four international airports while other countries were closing theirs to forestall the incursion of the deadly virus.
Asked whether the government would follow the trends by Europe and the UK, amongst others, by banning flights from high-risk areas, including South Africa to prevent the Omicron variant from spreading into the country, the Secretary to the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Dr Muktar Muhammed, said the Federal Government would monitor trends before taking necessary decisions.
Asked whether Nigeria would place southern African countries on red alert, the official said, “We shall continue to monitor the situation globally and take necessary measures appropriately.”
But Tomori faulted the delay, which according to him, may lead to “disaster.”
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.”
On her part, Baba said, “If it is proven scientifically that the existing vaccines have no effect on the new strain, then the needful should be done, suspend travels to South Africa.
“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.
“Also, emphasis should be made to ensure that all Nigerians are vaccinated. The vaccines protected against the previous strains. However note that as the virus moves from one host to another within a country or between countries, it will mutate leading to new strains. More strains are bound to emerge but the effect of the vaccines on the strains scientifically determines panic or calm.”
Also, Akande, who urged the government and its emergency management teams, including the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), to buckle down, said they should learn from the lessons of the past.
He said, “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 also said the new Southern African variant would “herald and most likely worsen the imminent fourth wave,” adding that “containment measures in schools, religious centres among others were not really stopped but enforcement level is very low.”
Experts including the Commissioner for Health in Lagos State, Prof Akin Abayomi, had warned of a possible spike during the festive period, even as the NCDC continues to advocate hygiene practices and adherence to public health protocols while the National Primary Health Care Development Agency keeps pushing for mass vaccination to achieve herd immunity.
South Africa, whose citizens have suddenly become persona-non-grata around the world after the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant in the country, says it is being “punished” and unfairly treated for sounding the alarm.
The government in the country worst hit by the pandemic on the continent is seething over the stigma it has suffered in the past 48 hours for being the bearer of bad news.
The decision by many countries around the world to ban flights from Southern Africa following the discovery of the variant, named Omicron, “is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker,” the foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” it added.
“New variants have been detected in other countries. Each of those cases has had no recent links with Southern Africa,” yet the global “reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in southern Africa.”
The World Health Organisation has cautioned against imposing travel restrictions due to Omicron.
South Africa’s Health Ministry slammed the travel restrictions as “draconian”, “panic” and “misdirected” measures that go “against the norms and advice by the WHO.
“We feel some of the leadership of countries are finding scapegoats to deal with what is a worldwide problem,” Health Minister, Joe Phaahla said.
Pretoria fears the border closures will hurt “families, the travel and tourism sector, businesses” and that it may deter other countries from reporting discoveries of future variants for fear of being ostracised and punished.
“Sometimes one gets punished for being transparent, and doing things very quickly,” Tulio de Oliveira, a leading virologist who announced the discovery of the Omicron variant, said.
Fubara Dedicates Victory To Rivers Unity …As INEC Declares Guber Election Results …PDP Wins 31 State Assembly Seats
Rivers State governor-elect, Sir Siminialayi Fubara, has dedicated his victory at the March 18 governorship polls to the unity of Rivers people.
Fubara noted that the determination of the people to sustain development gave him the victory as he described the giant strides of Governor Nyesom Wike as a big shoe that he would learn to wear.
The governor-elect who reacted to his declaration as the winner of the governorship election in the state on Monday, assured Rivers people of sustaining the tempo for the betterment of the state, adding that he is prepared to work with Rivers people who believe in the new Rivers vision and with innovative ideas.
He thanked Wike for his encouragement and for finding him worthy to carry on from where he will stop, describing it as a great privilege.
He glorified God as the foundation of his accomplishments in life and further assured the party leaders and Rivers people that he would not let them down but work in same spirit that has been passed on to him by Wike.
Fubara had scored 302,614 votes to beat his closet rival, Tonye Cole of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Magnus Abe of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) who trailed behind with 95,274 and 46,981, respectively.
In same vein, the Peoples Democratic Party swept all the State House of Assembly seats except for Ahoada West that is pending a rerun in some wards.
The State Returning Officer, Prof Akpofure Rim-Rukeh, who announced the result late Monday night at the end of the two-day collation at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Head Office in Port Harcourt, had declared Fubara as the winner of the governorship election.
The PDP candidate polled 302,614 votes to defeat his closet rival Tonye Cole of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who scored 95,274 votes while the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Senator Magnus Abe, and Labour Party (LP), Beatrice Itubo came a distant third and fourth with 46,981 and 22,224 votes, respectively.
Rim-Rukeh, who is also the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Delta State, said a total of 496,852 were accredited for the March 18 governorship election out of the 3,537,190 registered voters in the state.
He explained that of the 494,604 total votes cast, 483,934 were valid while 10, 670 were rejected votes.
Fubara was anointed by the incumbent Governor Nyesom Wike who is in the last weeks of his two-term of eight years.
Fubara’s Victory Reaffirms Rivers As PDP’s Stronghold -Wike …We’ll Sustain NEW Rivers Vision -Fubara
Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, says the State has once again reasserted itself as one of the premier strongholds of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the country following the victory of Sir Siminialayi Fubara as the governor-elect.
The governor noted that despite evil machination of the opposition, the PDP has consistently won all the governorship elections in the State since 2015.
Governor Wike stated these shortly after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced Fubara as the winner of the 2023 governorship election on Monday night.
Fubara, who was the PDP candidate polled 302,614 votes to defeat his closest rival, Mr. Tonye Cole of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who had 95,274 votes and the Social Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Senator Magnus Abe who came a distant third with 46,981.
Wike, who was visibly excited by Fubara’s resounding victory, told PDP leaders at the Government House, Port Harcourt that the State would continue to remain pivotal to the successes of the PDP.
“Whom God has blessed, no one can curse. There is nothing anyone can do about it. God at this time has said Siminalayi Fubara will be the next governor, and we give God the glory today that, that has happened.
“We won 23 local governments, 23 over 23. It has never happened. Out of the 32 State constituencies, we have won 31, it is remaining one that they said we will go for bye-election. We are ready and we will take that one.
“So, we have said to anybody who cares, Rivers State is PDP. When you annoy us, we do another thing. When we wanted to vote for the unity of the country, we showed it. We didn’t do anti-party, but we voted for unity of the country and that is what we did for one Nigeria.”
Governor Wike, who dedicated the electoral victories of the PDP in the just concluded general elections to God and the people of Rivers State, commended party stalwarts for remaining steadfast in defence of the State since he assumed office in 2015.
“Let me thank all of you for the support you have given us, how you stood firm to make sure that we defend what is Rivers State. In 2015, we did it, in 2019, we did it and in 2023, we have done it again. So, it is not surprising, God has always been with us.”
Governor Wike said he would remain eternally grateful to God because when he first contested for the office of the governor in 2015, his predecessor, Chibuike Amaechi, was the incumbent, and was antagonistic to his political aspiration.
The governor while mocking his predecessor for restoring to divisive and disgusting politicking during the electioneering period, said the resounding victory of the PDP has further diminished his political relevance in Rivers State.
“When we came out in 2015, we were not in government. There was a governor (Amaechi) then in 2015. He was the Director General (DG) of (Muhammadu) Buhari campaign. In 2019, he was a super Minister and was also DG of Buhari campaign. He never gave him (Buhari) 25 percent. 2015, he never gave him 25 percent.”
“This is 2023, and they cannot get 25 percent vote in the State, we have also defeated him. You were a super governor, we defeated you. You were a super minister, we defeated you, now, you are a super nobody, we defeated you.”
Governor Wike, has however, cautioned PDP members not to be complacent because the opposition which he likened to “enemies” are still prowling around.
In his acceptance speech, the governor-elect, Fubara, who was accompanied by his deputy, Prof. Ngozi Odu, thanked God for his electoral victory and assured that his administration would consolidate on Wike’s New Rivers Vision.
“We are going to work with everybody who believes in the New Rivers Vision to continue to build better lives, good services, protection of the dignity of every Rivers man and woman, protection of the integrity of this state in all phases and to make sure that we continue to defend our party in this state.
“Our vision is simple, it is anchored on the New Rivers Vision. We are to continue, to improve and to develop more on it. I want to thank the leadership of the party and the good people of Rivers State who believed in the New Rivers vision and ensured that the vision is the right vision. On the 18th of March, 2023, they supported us, they came out in their large numbers and voted for the unity and progress of this State”.
The governor-elect assured the people of Rivers State and the leadership of the PDP that his administration would not disappoint them.
“We give God all the glory and our foundation has always been God, and we believe He is going to give us the wisdom to carry this crown, its a big one. My principal will be leaving a very big shoe, I will need a lot of stockings so my leg can fit in properly.
“So, I need to start working on it. I need all of you to continue to support us, for us to achieve and maintain the standard that the governor has already laid and established for us”, he said.
Wike Congratulates Makinde, Mohammed, Sanwo-Olu
Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, has congratulated Governors Seyi Makinde (Oyo); Senator Bala Mohammed (Bauchi) and Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos) on their re-election.
Wike said the re-election of Makinde, Mohammed and Sanwo-Olu through free, fair and credible elections in their respective States, is indeed a triumph for Nigeria’s democracy.
“I am excited by the cheering news of the resounding re-election of governors Makinde, Mohammed and Sanwo-Olu. I am pleased to express to Your Excellencies the most sincere fraternal congratulations.
“I look forward to us consolidating the bonds of brotherhood and friendship between our States and peoples”, he said.
Wike urged the governors to use the election for their second tenure in office to continue to create a better life, and prosperity for all their peoples.
Business4 days ago
PENGASSAN Committed To Workplace Gender Equality
Sports4 days ago
‘Nigerian Football Suffering From Eight Years Of Neglect’
Crime/Justice2 days ago
Guber Elections: Jubilate But Don’t Cause Disorder, Police Tell Winners In Ebonyi
Sports2 days ago
AFCON 2023: Akpoguma, Ndidi, Others Hit Eagles Camp
online games1 day ago
The Pros and Cons of Betting: A Comprehensive Guide
Politics4 days ago
Alleged Party Name Omission, NNPP Candidate Threatens Suit Against INEC
News4 days ago
Continue To Do Right Thing, Banigo Tells INEC
News4 days ago
Troops Neutralise 60 As Terrorists Attack Collation Centre In Borno