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Omicron: Nigeria to Push for Mass Vaccination, Not Travel Ban

As countries around the world try to figure out ways to deal with the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said it

As countries around the world try to figure out ways to deal with the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said it will not join countries imposing travel ban on some nations and regions. NCDC said, instead, it would encourage more Nigerians to get vaccinated, while enhancing surveillance and vigilance.

Director-General of the centre, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, disclosed this on  Wednesday on “The Morning Show”. 

Adetifa confirmed that the country now had cases of the new virus strain.

In a related development, NCDC said it had begun contact tracing on three persons who tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

He explained that regardless of his recommendations from a technical perspective, a ban was not on the cards for the NCDC.

Adetifa, however said surveillance would be an on-going activity, as the agency continued to generate results from the laboratory, tests, case identification, and sequencing, which will be on a daily basis.

According to him, “We are currently the subject of travel bans ourselves for reasons that are not driven by science. From the perspective of NCDC, we give technical advice, and this is based on risk assessments of transmission from countries where intending travellers are coming from.

“So, as recommended, if you follow science-driven process, you review the epidemiological situation in those countries, you review the genomic and surveillance data in those countries and then you make a decision based on the risk of importation and the risk of transmission.”

He stressed that it would not be surprising if more cases were discovered as they continued to sequence the samples, saying this is reflective of the situation worldwide.

On measures taken so far by the federal government to curtail the spread of the new variant, Adetifa noted that surveillance was in top gear.

He said, “Countries are required to conduct a risk based assessment of transmission and we are enhancing surveillance in terms of looking at travellers, and ensuring that travellers adhere to all of the travel advisory regarding Day 2 testing and Day 7 testing for the appropriate category. In addition we are prioritising and sequencing, as recommended, for all incoming travellers.”

He further said, “The treatment centres across the country are still there, oxygen plants, oxygen supply, to take care of any potential increase in case numbers requiring hospitalisation. We’ve not recorded any fatalities. That there’s a new variant does not really change what we do

“It doesn’t change the effectiveness of the public health measures. As recommended, it doesn’t change the requirement for vaccination or the benefits that are likely to accrue for vaccination, regardless of what the variant goes over.”

Adetifa encouraged Nigerians to get vaccinated, explaining that vaccines prevent transmission, reduces transmission if infections should occur and also protect severe disease and death.

He said, “In the last Peace and Security Council (PSC) press conference, I highlighted how almost all of the deaths in the last two months under review occurred in people who are unvaccinated. So vaccines have the benefits and I hope that with partners in the media, with civil society organisations and everybody else, we will continue to sensitise our fellow citizens to really make use of every opportunity that they have to get vaccinated.”

Speaking on the NCDC data collection, he explained that collation was done in the interest of transparency, stressing, “What we have seen, again, in the past weeks, obviously, as part of a feature of pandemic fatigue and similar to what’s been reported everywhere else is that there’s been a drop in testing for a few weeks before the last one. But we have seen an uptick in testing as a result of all of the efforts put in place to try and get states and people who are at the frontline to return to testing.

“It has also gone up in response to our interventions and continued rollouts of rapid diagnostic tests to make this test more accessible, more readily available and easier to do than the reference test, which is PCR. We will continue to do that over the coming weeks. In fact, we are in the process of consolidating testing guidelines, we are preparing for a massive rollout of rapid diagnostic tests as a means of shoring up and ensuring completeness of surveillance.”

Meanwhile, NCDC, in a statement, explained that the move to carry out contact tracing followed the confirmation of the first positive case of the new COVID-19 variant by the agency yesterday morning. It said the possibility of more cases being detected in the country could not be ruled out since Omicron variant was now widespread globally, given the increasing number of countries reporting the variant.

It stated that it had activated its contact tracing mechanism by undertaking a follow up to ensure isolation, and linkage to clinical care for the affected persons.

NCDC stated, “Contact tracing and other relevant response activities had commenced.”

The centre noted that arrangements were also being made to notify the country where the traveller originated from, according to the provisions of the International Health Regulations.

NCDC said samples of three persons with history of travel to South Africa were confirmed positive.

The statement added, “In line with the routine travel test required of all international travellers and genomic sequencing at the NCDC through its National Reference Laboratory (NRL), Abuja, Nigeria confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant, also known as the B.1.1.529 lineage.

“This genomic surveillance has now identified and confirmed Nigeria’s first cases of the B.1.1.529 SARS-CoV-2 lineage, now known as the Omicron variant.

“Samples obtained for the stipulated Day Two test for all travellers to Nigeria were positive for this variant in three persons with history of travel to South Africa. These cases were recent arrivals in the country in the past week.”

NCDC further stated that it was conducting sequencing of all blood samples of SARS-COV-2 positive travellers from all countries, especially countries that had reported the Omicron variant.

The NCDC statement said, “Since reports of the emergence of this Omicron variant, the Federal Ministry of Health, through the NCDC, has intensified public health response measures to COVID-19 in Nigeria.

“The national travel advisory has also been revised by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 and now requires all inbound travellers to Nigeria present a negative COVID-19 test result done not more than 48 hours before departure.

“Pre-booking and payment for all Day 2 and Day 7 COVID-19 PCR tests are prerequisites for travel. In addition, all outbound passengers, regardless of the requirements of destination countries, are expected to present evidence of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test done not later than 48 hours before departure.

“We appeal to Nigerians to adhere strictly to these travel protocols and other public safety measures to protect themselves, families, friends, the community at large and to prevent a fourth wave of COVID-19 in the country as we combat the pandemic and these emerging variants, including the Delta variant.”

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja,Emma Okonji and Nosa Alekhuogie in Lagos