FOLLOWING a resurgence of COVID-19 in China and the detection of the new Omicron subvariants, BA.5.2 and BF.7, said to be responsible for fuelling local infections in the Asian country, the Federal Government has to swiftly reintroduce safety measures to forestall the variants from entering Nigeria. COVID-19 has so far killed over 6.8 million people worldwide since 2019, disrupted national and global economies, and confounded the accumulate scientific knowledge of humanity. Carelessness should therefore not be an option.
Unfortunately, Nigeria has faltered before. At the outbreak of the coronavirus in 2019, the federal and state authorities failed, despite strident warnings and advice to take effective preemptive measures to keep it out. The result was disastrous.From the first case recorded in February 2020, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control said that by December 2022, 266,463 cases had been recorded nationwide and 3,155 persons had died. The authorities scrambled to impose lockdowns, restrictions, and safety protocols only after their carelessness had let the virus in. The blunder should not be repeated.
The global community is once more on edge over the discovery of the new subvariants in China, the same country from where the first outbreak began. Though they have not been officially designated by the WHO as variants of concern, many countries have been responding accordingly with strict epidemiological control measures, including restriction of travellers who have been to China, increased vaccination, and enforcement of health protocols at entry points and among the local population.
In Nigeria, public health safety measures have been lifted since the dwindling of cases reported from the last wave that resulted from the discovery of the Omicron variant. Though the NCDC says that the BA5.2 and BF.7 have not been officially discovered in Nigeria, nothing should be taken for granted. All necessary measures should be taken to prevent their entry.
At the airports, seaports and land borders, security, border, and health officials should be at alert. There should be zero-tolerance for the unpreparedness, indiscretion and nonchalance that facilitated the entrance in February 2020 of an infected foreigner from Italy, who did not go through preventive protocols at the Lagos airport and sucked Nigeria into the pandemic.
First, there should be flight bans. At least 14 countries have imposed travel restrictions and tests on in-bound travellers from China. In Africa, Morocco and Ghana imposed outright bans. India’s travel constraints regime is extended to travellers from Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. More are imposing similar restrictions following China’s removal of COVID-19 restrictions on its population and the expected influx of Chinese tourists and businessmen.
Nigeria’s leaders should be responsible and lead by example.The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and many other officials, governors and legislators were negligent in 2019/2020. They travelled around carelessly. Buhari jetted to South Africa and the United Arab Emirates at the height of calls to impose travel curbs.
Experts, including the Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Oyewale Tomori, had urged Buhari to postpone the physical meetings or opt for virtual interactions. Others acted responsibly; the African Development Bank postponed the 2021 Africa Investment Forum. The World Muslim Communities Council conference was postponed. Sports events, including the Olympic Games, and Africa Games Week,were also suspended.
The Netherlands government had banned fans from football matches. World leaders cancelled trips and took charge of managing the emergency at home.
Prevention strategies need to be reinvigorated. COVID-19 protocols at entry points should be tightened. The Port Health Services, the NCDC, and the Federal Ministry of Health should ensure that all in-bound travellers are tested. Temporary imposition of flight restrictions should be imposed.
COVID-19’s negative effects are too deadly. According to the WHO, 6,681,433 persons had died from the virus worldwide by January 6, this year, and 657,977,736 persons infected. An estimate of its negative impact on the global economy in 2020 ranged from 3.5 per cent to 3.9 per cent and is reckoned by the IMF to be the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the early 20th century. Despite modest recovery, the disruption of global supply chains, contraction and debt drained about $8.5 trillion from the world’s economy between 2019 and 2021.
Predicted further drastic fall in oil prices will spell further doom for Nigeria’s public sector and disaster for the private sector and push the country back into recession.
Nigerians should adhere to safety protocols to protect their own health. Enforcement of social distancing, wearing of face masks at public places, regular washing of hands and use of hand sanitisers are essential, especially as the electoral season is on. The government should impose strong sanctions on violators of safety protocols.
Relevant public enlightenment agencies at the federal, state, and local government levels, religious leaders, CSOs, market and community leaders, should collaborate for public advocacy.
Vaccine racketeering and profiteering by corrupt officials, as well as the issuance of fake COVID-19 test certificates by government-accredited centres must be stopped. Vaccination is very important. Experts say if they spread faster than the Delta variant, BA.5.2 and BF.7 will require vaccines and travel restrictions to restrain them. It is estimated that by the end of the year, enough vaccines will have been manufactured to vaccinate the whole world.
Opinion moulders should campaign for vaccination and emphasise its safety. The National Primary Health Care Development Agency says only 63.66 million Nigerians have been vaccinated in the over 200 million-strong population. This is depressingly low and cannot provide the required herd immunity until at it reaches least 70 per cent of the adult population. Testing should be intensified to detect more clandestine cases. Wearing a mask has no side effects. It only saves lives.
More funds need to be injected into the weak health system. The government must resolve all pending grey areas and negotiations with the medical sector unions and other health sector associations to forestall work stoppages and curb the exodus of medical professionals from the country.