By Obinna Amaobi
As concerns continued to mount over the new variant of COVID-19 designated as variant of concern (VOC) and named Omicron by the World Health Organisation, WHO, the Federal Government on Sunday night reassured Nigerians that the Omicron variant has not been detected in Nigeria.
In a press statement, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, said the centre is prioritising sequencing of recently accrued samples from SARS-COV-2 positive travellers from all countries, especially those from countries that have reported the Omicron variant already.
Adetifa further urged all States to ensure that sample collection and testing are accessible, so that travelers and people with symptoms or who have been exposed to COVID-19 cases get tested promptly.
“The state notes that the NCDC, through the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) continues to coordinate genomic surveillance and other activities required for the detection of variants.”
Adetifa also explained that a number of cases have now been reported in the UK, Israel, Botswana, Hong-Kong, Germany, Belgium, Italy and counting but no deaths have been attributed to the new variant yet.
He said: “A total of 126 genomes of this variant have been detected globally and published on GISAID, (GISAID is a global mechanism for sharing sequencing data).
“Given the high number of mutations present in this Omicron variant and the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases observed in South Africa, this virus is considered highly transmissible and may also present an increased risk of reinfection compared to other VOCs.
“However, the fears about its ability to evade protective immune responses and/or its being vaccine resistant are only theoretical so far.
“This virus can still be detected with existing Polymerase Chain Reaction (P”CR) tests.
“The WHO and researchers across the world are working at speed to gain understanding of the likely impact of this variant on the severity of COVID-19 and on the potency of existing vaccines and therapeutics,” he added.
Continuing, he said in collaboration with Port Health Services of the Federal Ministry of Health, enhanced surveillance is ongoing at the airports and points of entry, and to ensure compliance with current travel guidance especially for the day 2 COVID-19 PCR testing.
“Should there be any changes to travel guidance, this will be communicated in due course.
“Considering the highly likely increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its emergence that is linked to unmitigated community transmission of the virus, he urged Nigerians to ensure strict adherence to the proven public health and social measures in place, which are enforceable by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 (PSC-COVID-19), through the COVID-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021.
“We are collectively responsible for our own health security including playing our part to reduce the risk of the importation or spread of the Omicron variant in Nigeria,”he stated.
He implored Nigerians to make every use of the currently available opportunities to get vaccinated against COVID-19, adhere to public health and social measures that have been proven to help prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection regardless of the circulating variant.
He said Nigerians should continue to wear face masks especially in crowded settings, wash their hands regularly, observe physical distancing i.e., keeping a distance of two metres from others, where possible, ensure good ventilation, avoid travel to countries where there is a surge in COVID-19 cases or reported cases of the Omicron variant and avoid all non-essential travel both local and international.
“If you must travel, please adhere to travel protocols instituted by the PSC-COVID-19 which are in place to prevent the risk of importation of the virus or its variants to Nigeria.
“The virus is more likely to spread where people gather and do not adhere to these measures.
“Therefore we appeal to business owners, religious leaders, and people in authority to take responsibility by ensuring people in their premises wear masks and adhere to physical distancing.
“We must do all we can to protect ourselves and our country,” he advised.