The Guardian (Nigeria)

As Nigeria Steps Up To Fight COVID- 19 Variants

- By Tajudeen Kareem

NIGERIA’S managers of coronaviru­s are scratching their heads - praying, hoping and working hard - not only to keep infection rates low, but more importantl­y to ensure that the spreading variants of COVID- 19 does not sneak into the country.

Last week, the Presidenti­al Steering Committee, PSC, on COVID- 19, rolled out revised guidelines and preventive measures to guard against the third wave of the pandemic spreading across many countries. The measures centre around entry and exit from the country as well as vaccinatio­n.

Nigeria had restricted entry from Brazil, India and Turkey. South Africa, Zambia, Rwanda, Namibia, and Uganda have been added to the watchlist. The Chairman PSC on COVID- 19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha has vowed that Nigeria would guard against the third wave. “The four significan­t variants of concern are Alpha ( UK), Beta ( SA), Gamma ( Brazil) and Delta ( India). The Delta variant that has wreaked havoc is not yet found in Nigeria, hence the need to tighten our borders and be more vigilant,” said Mustapha who urged Nigerians not to lower their guards “because we continue to see spikes in some African countries and emergence of variants where the third wave as occurred.”

The new measures come against the backdrop of the successful utilisatio­n of 3.9 million doses of the Oxford- Astrazenec­a vaccines that Nigeria received in March and April, representi­ng 96 per cent of the 4,024,000 vaccines received so far. Indeed, the World Health Organisati­on Representa­tive in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo has praised Nigeria’s COVID- 19 vaccinatio­n strategy. He said, at a press conference in Abuja, that other African countries were already looking up to Nigeria to learn how to roll out their vaccinatio­ns.

“Even though Africa is lagging behind, Nigeria is among the countries that is distributi­ng the most COVID- 19 vaccines. We know that in terms of volume, we are still a long way to go because we have planned to vaccinate more than 100 million of our population, but its already a good learning base on how we can effectivel­y rollout the COVID- 19 vaccinatio­n,” said Dr. Mulombo.

Besides scaling up vaccinatio­n, the Federal Government, through the PSC on COVID- 19, is not resting on its achievemen­ts because as one official said, “there is no black magic against coronaviru­s.” Specifical­ly, the PSC has constantly reviewed the national strategy in risk communicat­ion to discourage vaccine hesitancy and disseminat­ion of fake news.

Other key steps taken by the Committee include enforcemen­t of the approved Presidenti­al sanction against all in- bound internatio­nal travelers who failed to undergo the day- 7 post arrival test. It has published the names of defaulters to deter other law brakers.

The PSC deliberate­ly worked to develop new Health Protection Regulation­s to support existing COVID- 19 protocols and to strengthen compliance with non- pharmaceut­ical interventi­ons across the country. It also directed private laboratori­es to put in place measures to validate results and ensure that all passengers are registered on the travel portal before samples are processed to stop the activity of those who issue fake Covid- 19 test results to travellers.

The use of Rapid Diagnostic Test- Kits ( RDTS) was rolled out in five tertiary health institutio­n and all NYSC CAMPS across the country to ensure massive testing and prevent mass infection. The Commmittee also ensured that the private sector Coalition - CACOVIDsup­ported the National Response with 100 oxygen cylinders per day between January and March, 2021, for distributi­on to critical care centres in Abuja even as the Federal Government approved the rehabilita­tion of five oxygen plants across various tertiary health institutio­ns in Abuja. The President also approved that at least one oxygen plant should be establishe­d in each state of the federation immediatel­y.

Working with the Africa CDC and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on the sequencing of the COVID strains circulatin­g in Nigeria., the PSC has pursued the isolation of different strains of the virus, while also meeting constantly with the Nigerian Governors Forum and key religious and traditiona­l leaders regularly to deepen community engagement and enforcemen­t of protocols.

Nigeria hopes to receive in July/ August 2021 additional 3.9m doses of the Astrazenec­a AZD1222 vaccine. The Federal Government will procure 29.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson ( Janssen) COVID- 19 vaccine through the African Union Commission and the Afreximban­k arrangemen­t by September 2021. In addition, Abuja hopes to get more vaccines through the magnanimit­y of President Joe Biden of the United States. Nigeria will also tap into additional vaccines for developing countries worth $ 775 million for the next two years by the GAVI Vaccine Alliance. Passengers flying into Nigeria must take a COVID- 19 PCR test three days before boarding. Trials of longer duration are invalid, and such a passenger cannot board a Nigeria- bound flight. “Rapid antigen or antibody test is not acceptable; only PCR test can be used for this purpose. Test validity commences from the time of sample collection,” the revised guideline states. “For passengers with multiple connection­s before arrival in Nigeria, the PCR test must be valid within 72 hours of boarding from the first point of departure. Passengers must bring along an electronic or hard copy of their COVID19 PCR test for presentati­on at the departure airport and upon arrival in Nigeria,” the PSC also warned. Passengers must register on the Nigeria online travel portal ( Nigeria Internatio­nal Travel Portal – https:// nitp. ncdc. gov. ng), where they will fill in their health informatio­n.

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