As countries across the world continued to take measures to prevent the spread of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, Nigeria on Monday said there was currently no reported detection of the strain in the country.
National COVID-19 Incident Manager, Dr. Mukhtar Muhammad, stated this position yesterday in Abuja at a media briefing organised by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19.
Addressing journalists, Muhammad stressed that as of yesterday, there had not been any detected case, saying, “the PSC has continued to review our risk of this latest information and take every necessary step to stop it from being imported into the country. We have taken far-reaching proactive measures to minimise and mitigate this possibility.”
The discovery last week by South Africa and Botswana of the more infectious variant of COVID-19 elicited global concern.
Muhammad said PSC would be issuing a travel guideline today to prevent the virus from spreading. The new travel guideline will require passengers arriving the country to do a PCR test 48 hours before departing.
They would also do day two and day seven PCR tests on arrival while they will be required to self-isolate for seven days, he added.
Muhammad explained: “Passengers that are outbound, going out of Nigeria, will be required to either show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or provide a negative PCR test taken 48 hours before departure. These conditions apply to diplomats as well. The measures will come into effect by Friday, 3rd of December, 2021.”
The Head of Technical Secretariat of PSC said the authority would ensure that there was enforcement on passengers who arrived and refused to take tests, through suspension of their passports and prosecution, or both.
He added that PSC would step up surveillance at the ports of entry into the country, intensify testing and contact tracing, and optimise sequencing capacity.
Muhammad decried the promotion of vaccine nationalism, a pervasive inequality at the global level that made rich countries to be able to procure vaccines for their own citizens, through direct agreements with pharmaceutical companies, while low and middle countries lagged behind. He said this was one of the factors fuelling COVID-19 and the emergence of variants of concern, including Omicron.
He warned that lack of vaccination in developing countries would provide a fertile ground for the virus to develop mutations, which will in turn threaten progress already recorded. Muhammad called on the developed countries to support efforts being made globally to ensure that there was equity and access to vaccines.
The federal government also said it was reviewing the situation around the world and putting in place measures to curtail the effect of the new variant on the country.
Speaking at the national briefing of the committee, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman, PSC on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, urged Nigerians to exercise extra caution and vigilance in practice and enforcement of preventive measures.
Mustapha stated, “As the DG WHO has just stated today, the emergence of the highly-mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is. South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant, not penalised.”
He said both South Africa and Botswana should be commended for not hiding Omicron but revealing to WHO the outcome of their sequencing.
Mustapha warned that other countries might in future choose to maintain silence, in the process putting the world at risk, instead of disclosing discovery of new outbreaks in order not to suffer liabilities, like the ones South Africa and Botswana are suffering.
The SGF said PSC was aware of some travellers circumventing the travel protocols by providing fake COVID-19 test results, vowing, “The weight of the law is heavy and will come hard on these people.”
Mustapha said under the Vaccine Mandate that would come into effect fully on December 1, 2021, every federal government worker and, in essence, all Nigerians and residents were expected to get vaccination.
He added: “With the developments around the world, people will not be able to travel without their verified vaccination cards.”
The SGF also said the impasse on the Nigeria-UAE flights had been resolved in the interest of both parties. He said though this process had taken so long to pull through, with its ripple effects, everyone involved in getting the deal deserved plaudits.
“A date for the commencement of flights between the two countries will be announced in due course,” he said.
The SGF also said PSC’s nine months mandate extension would end on December 31. He said to effectively capture the core elements of the national response, a National Summit to end COVID-19 in 2022 and to strengthen Global Health Security was being planned to hold in Abuja 6-7 December.
Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja