The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said it has found six more cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant in the country. This is the same variant currently causing anxiety in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world.
The Director-General of NCDC, Chikwe Iheakwazu, while speaking at the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing on Monday, said the cases were detected from samples collected from Osun and Kwara states by scientists at Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), at the Redeemers University in Ede, Osun State.
“On 30th of January, our partners at ACEGID detected the B.1.1.7 variant in six additional samples – five from Osun and one from Kwara State. This is the variant of concern that first emerged in the UK,” he said.
“The five in Osun is most likely related to the fact that this is where ACEGID is and where they get a lot of samples from. In total, we have detected the B.1.1.7 variant in seven cases within Nigeria.”
Mr Iheakwazu said the development implies community transmission of this variant of concern, hence the need to scale up on genomic surveillance.
“Specifically, we have begun sequencing positive samples among travellers from the UK and South Africa, who test positive on the seventh day of testing.
“We are developing a protocol to sequence more samples from across states at ACEGID and our sister-agency NIMR. This is in addition to our capacity at the NCDC National Reference Laboratory,” Mr Ihekweazu said.
He, however, said it is unclear if the new variants are leading to increased transmission recorded in some countries.
“We are all aware that with increasing transmission, the virus is adapting to the human population leading to what is known as variants of concern.”6
“In most countries, it is still not clear if the variants of concern are leading to increased transmission, or if the increase in cases is as a result of poor adherence to public health and social measures,” he said.
He explained that an additional layer of response required to understand the variants of concern is with genetic sequencing and genomic surveillance.
The BBC quoted top British health officials as saying there was no evidence the new variant was more deadly or would react differently to vaccines, but it was proving to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.
The new variant detected in the UK in September and dubbed “lineage B.1.1.7” has triggered the current exponential spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom, leading to a travel ban on the UK by some countries and a stay at home order.
The UK has recorded almost 4 million cases of COVID-19, with over 100,000 deaths, data from Worldometers.com shows.
Over 45 countries have so far identified the UK variant, with experts warning that more countries could report sharp increases in cases in the coming weeks, the BBC reported.
Amidst high concerns of the rapid spread of the new variant, some countries are taking proactive measures to prevent importation of new cases of the virus.
The Nigerian government earlier announced new travel rules for passengers coming in from the United Kingdom and South Africa.
“Effective from Monday, December 28th, all passengers coming into the country from the UK and South Africa on direct flights, must use the Nigerian International Travel Portal to register, fill in the health questionnaire and must upload a negative COVID-19 PCR result with a validity of not more than five days and must pay for a COVID PCR test at day seven of arrival in country without which they will not be allowed to board the flights,” the National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Sani Aliyu, had said.ADVERTISEMENT
He noted that a special register would be opened at the airports for passengers from these two countries specifically to track and ensure they present for COVID test on day seven.
Mr Aliyu said the country was concerned about the emergence of the new variant in the UK and the additional mutate that was described as coming from South Africa.
He noted that Nigeria’s system for travels in terms of ensuring the safety of citizens and preventing the importation of cases is one of the most strict.
“If you do not present a travel permit, the airlines are being directed not to board.
“So if you are coming into Nigeria from the UK and South Africa, it is in your best interest to familiarise yourself with the Nigerian International Travel Portal,” Mr Aliyu had said in December.