January 23, 2021

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Nigeria moves fast to control new COVID-19 variant

4 min read

Federal health authorities Thursday in Abuja dispelled assertions that a new variant of the coronavirus identified in Nigeria was the same as the one currently causing anxiety in the United Kingdom.

The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Chikwe Ihekweazu, speaking at the Presidential Taskforce (PTF) on COVID-19 weekly briefing said the variant found in Nigeria is only similar to that of the UK, a position reinforced by Sani Aliyu, National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.

Sani Aliyu, National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19
Sani Aliyu, National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19

Mr. Aliyu had earlier told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview before the weekly briefings that available evidence suggests that the new variant which “multiplies faster and mostly likely transmits easily…is no different from the already circulating variants [in Nigeria] in terms of its virulence – it is not more deadly than the previous variants.”

Sounding a more cautious tone, Mr Ihekweazu said previous sequencing of samples at his centre did not come up with any variant “deadlier than the original strain of the virus” but added that “it is not something we have been looking for on the go. To find that, you have to do sequencing and our focus has not been on sequencing.”

Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) [PHOTO: PMNEWS]
Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) [PHOTO: PMNEWS]

Both officials then corrected suggestions that scientists at the Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), at the Redeemers University in Ede, Osun State had found a new variant in Nigeria that is the same as that causing anxiety in the U.K. but Mr Ihekweazu still held out a wiggle room for the possibility, saying scientist could still not rule out the likelihood that the new [UK] variant was present in Nigeria.

“Is it possible that they are circulating? Yes. This is because there are a lot of travels between the UK and Nigeria,” Mr Ihekweazu said, adding however that “We are working with Redeemers university to get a collection of other viruses circulating in Nigeria now and compare it to what is circulating abroad.”

Two quick steps

Moving fast to calm national anxiety on the new development that has led to increased hospitalization, deaths and a rash of policies like travel bans and strict control of social activities in places like the UK and South Africa, which also announced the finding of a new variant of the virus, federal authorities in Abuja however took two swift steps to address concerns around the new variant of the virus in the country.

Mr Aliyu, a doctor and Nigeria’s former HIV-AIDS czar, said the nation’s Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has been tasked to quickly ensure that more analysis of available samples in the country are conducted, and that researchers who, so far, had not furnished federal authorities with a formal report on the new variant, have now been asked to provide additional clarification on their findings.

“It is still work in progress and I would not want the general public to be alarmed,” Mr. Aliyu stated pressing that the top priorities of the task force now are to prevent transmission of the disease.

“The most important thing is for people to understand the risks and to take precautions, particularly, when it comes to non-pharmaceutical interventions – wearing a face mask,

Scaling up Testing

On his part, Mr Ihekweazu appealed to state governments to reopen their COVID-19 test centres in a bid to ramp up testing.

He said the infectious disease centre could not conduct all COVID-19 tests sample sent in from the states and that the NCDC was working on adopting the use of Rapid Diagnostic Test Kits from 2021 in order to scale up testing in the country.

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“On testing, there is light at the end of the tunnel. By next year, we will be introducing the use of rapid test kits.

“We have made a significant procurement that is coming in January and through that, we are taking testing closer to the people away from the laboratories,” he said.

Boss Mustapha, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19
Boss Mustapha, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19

Meanwhile, the chairman of the PTF, Boss Mustapha, said the team is working assiduously on the turn around time for receiving test results.

“We are working with the NCDC to improve on this. Nigerians should expect improvement very soon,” he said.

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