New COVID-19 variant, Omicron, not in Nigeria, says NCDC

From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has confirmed that the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, was yet to be detected in Nigeria as at Sunday, November 28, 2021.

However, the centre said it will continue to coordinate genomic surveillance and other activities required for the detection of variants through its National Reference Laboratory.

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It also assumed that the global spread of the variant has occurred, hence it’s 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.

NCDC Director General, Ifedayo Adetifa, in a statement, yesterday, said: “While Omicron variant has so far not been detected in Nigeria, a number of cases have now been reported in the UK, Israel, Botswana, Hong Kong, Germany, Belgium, Italy and counting.

“No death has been attributed to this new variant yet but 126 genomes of this variant have been detected globally and published on GISAID which is a global mechanism for sharing sequencing data.”

He said the Federal Ministry of Health and NCDC are aware of reports of this new COVID-19 variant–the B.1.1.529 lineage. This variant has now been designated a variant of concern and named; Omicron by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as advised by the independent Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).

Adetifa said WHO has also urged countries to enhance their surveillance and virus sequencing efforts to increase their understanding of the circulating variants.

“Howbeit, we are monitoring emerging evidences on this new variant and its implication, to inform Nigeria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But given the high number of mutations present in this Omicron variant and the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases observed in South Africa, the virus is considered highly transmissible and may also present an increased risk of reinfection compared to other variants of concern.”

He said the fears about the ability of the omicron variant to evade protective immune responses or its being vaccine resistant are only theoretical so far, insisting that the virus can still be detected with existing Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests.

The NCDC boss further confirmed that WHO and researchers across the world are working at speed to gain more knowledge and understanding of the likely impact of the variant on the severity of COVID-19, and on the potency of existing vaccines and therapeutics.

Nevertheless, he said NCDC will continue to ensure daily review of surveillance data, and uses same to inform public health decision making.

He, therefore, urged all states to ensure sample collection and testing are accessible so that travellers, especially people with symptoms or who might have been exposed to COVID-19 cases get tested promptly.

He said NCDC, in collaboration with Port Health Services of the Federal Ministry of Health, have enhanced surveillance at airports and other points of entry, to ensure compliance with current travel guidance, especially for the day two COVID-19 PCR testing.

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