By Cosmas Omegoh and Fred Ezeh, Abuja
COVID–19 is still here with us. Experts have continued to warn that a third wave of Coronavirus might hit the country in the same way it has done in other countries.
They raised the alarm that Nigerians should not let down their guards, insisting that the fear of the virus is the beginning of wisdom.
But that appears to be a piece of advice many still find hard to heed to, let alone believe.
To many, COVID-19 is still a tale made up by a few with the intent to steal. This belief is being reinforced nowadays by the decreasing number of COVID-19 infections in the country. So, some individuals out there are stabbing the air, celebrating that the virus is gone for good. That it has returned to its rightful place: the dungeon where it came from, but not without spreading sorrow and sadness. And now, the relics of its receding past are the few quantities of nose masks still being sold at street corners – those who stocked them in large quantities must recoup their money anyway.
But experts still want everyone to understand that a belief in COVID-19 disappearance is hollow and misleading. They are shouting themselves hoax that a third wave of the virus is possible if not here already.
According to Dr Tajudeen Mobolaji Salau, usually, a third or fourth wave waxes much stronger. It is potentially deadlier by far than the previous waves.
Dr Salau is the vice chairman, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Lagos chapter.
He warned that “people still living in denial of the existence of COVID-19 should think again.
“Such individuals should change their mindset about this matter. Truth be told, COVID-19 is still here.”
To buttress his claim, he narrated: “While I was speaking with a doctor friend of mine days ago, she sounded very emotional, devastated, telling me how she lost her two very dear friends to COVID-19. She was broken.”
NARD expresses fears
Meanwhile, the president, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, has raised concerns about the rising number of Covid-19 confirmed cases across the world.
He said: “Third wave of Covid-19 is real as can be seen with rising mortalities across several countries of the world. Regrettably, Nigerians have, obviously, thrown caution in the air as regards safety protocols against Covid-19.
“The government has continued to sensitise the people against the disease, insisting on non pharmaceutical measures remain the best way out. That we are not recording mortalities in Nigeria as the case in India and other parts of the world doesn’t mean we should be less conscious of the fact that the disease remains a threat to the world.
“Lately, several countries are reintroducing partial or total lockdown to contain the spread of the virus. We need to rise to the occasion and restrengthen our resolve to fight Covid-19.”
Moves to stop third wave
In anticipation of a possible third wave, the Federal Government not long ago, announced the banning of travellers from India, Brazil and Turkey as a way of checking the importation of the new strains of COVID-19.
Lagos State on its part, followed up by saying that it was closely monitoring passengers from 13 countries namely: the United States, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Togo, South Africa, Canada, France, Germany, Uganda, the Netherlands, Cameroon, Angola and Rwanda.
The state Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi said by doing so, “we are preparing and building resistance, but if the third wave enters, the state would prevent it from going into the community.”
At the moment, India, South Africa, Brazil, UK and even Kenya are being buffeted by a fresh wave of COVID-19. The strains so discovered were both different and dangerous.
But the Lagos State government said it had rolled out a number of measures targeted at ensuring that the new strains do not berth in the country, reasoning that Lagos is a major entry point into the country. Leaving its entry points unmarked would be injurious to all.
Dr Salau admitted that taking precautionary measures are important because “the fear of the third wave of COVID-19 is a quick reminder that we should continue to wash our hands regularly, adhere to the protocol we have been used to and ensure that we gather only when it is necessary.
“The third wave should not be neglected although not long ago, we are seeing a decline in the number of infections in Lagos. We expect that this number should be sustained so that the virulent and newer species of the virus don’t come into the state. If the virus comes into the state, it means it has come into Nigeria because we all know that the international airport is here.”
Lately, India has been overwhelmed by the new wave of COVID-19. Its health system has been virtually stretched to the point of collapsing, the same for Brazil.
Recent strains, vicious, virulent
According to New India Express newspaper, for instance, “the well-known reason for multiple waves is the mutation in the genetic code of the Coronavirus.” It informed that “a slow vaccination pace gives it more time to mutate and find ways to evade or trick antibodies.”
Quoting a Brazilian virologist, Renato Santana, the paper said that this wave “accelerates the appearance of new variants as the continued spread of the virus allows it to get ‘trained’ to detect and bypass antibodies, since the immune system merely looks out for the original strain.”
The medium said: “The Brazil variant is today considered its most dangerous form, which researchers confirm is a combination of 18 different mutations that includes Brazilian, British and South African variants. Deadlier and more infectious than the original Coronavirus, this new scourge is a genetic combo of around two-dozen previously known mutations.”
Shortly before the Indian third wave exploded, an expert, Gauri Chaudhari, was reported to have warned about the looming danger, reminding everyone about the Spanish flu experience which lasted between February 1918 and April 1920, infecting 500 million people.
“The Spanish Flu hit the world in three waves; it affected two-third of the world’s population before it disappeared,” Chaudhari was quoted to have said.
Then he asked: “But does this mean Coronavirus will disappear after the third wave? No, there is no guarantee. We may see a few more and distinct waves in the coming years. After that, the virus will run out of evolutionary options and settle down as a more benign, endemic pathogen.”
Going down memory lane, Wikipedia reminds that “the Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 influenza pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people – about a third of the world’s population at the time – in four successive waves.”
Against this backdrop, Dr Salau reinstated his earlier warning that COVID-19 should not be hastily dismissed because “the first and second waves followed the sequence as long as they are both pandemic.
“A pandemic is an illness that affects every part of the world and that is what the COVID-19 has done.”
While emphasising the need for everyone to be careful, he affirmed that “indeed, this new strain from the micro organism point of view, is different from the one we knew before now; they call it the Indian strain.”
The Africa Union warning
Shortly before the new strains began to sneak into Africa, the African Union’s (AU) Centre for Disease Control and Prevention had issued a warning requesting African countries not to take their eyes off the ball.
It said that the reported gradual rise in COVID-19 cases was an indication of an anticipated possible spike.
The director of the disease control centre, Dr John Nkengasong projected that “when you look at East Africa, you see that clearly there has been an increase of 98 per cent over the last four weeks. It is fair, so say, that East Africa, as a whole community is now going through the third wave.
“In Kenya, new infections had shot up by 400 per cent over the past few weeks with its public facilities overwhelmed.”
Efforts by Lagos govt
It was in the light of this that the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Abayomi lately declared that the state was taking proactive measures to prevent a new strain coming in to reverse the gains made over the past months.
He expressed fear that COVID-19 third wave would likely be triggered by the arrival of individuals infected with the new and more dangerous strains who would be coming into the country via the Lagos air and sea ports.
However, he was confident that the state COVID-19 team had been placed on red alert to be able to dictate the new strains once they are noticed, adding that having surveillance teams at the entry points is key.
“The latest wave in India has been proven to be as a result of new mutant strains that have resulted in a dramatic increase in sickness and death for two weeks running.
“Whilst we commiserate with countries like these, it is important that we protect our environment and residents against this virus.
“Especially as we have only less than one per cent of our population that have received their first dose of the Oxford Astra-Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine similar to India that has about eight per cent,” he said.
Prof Abayomi assured that the state government would strive to implement the various protocols earlier handed out by the Federal Government regarding in-bound passengers.
He said: “All passengers arriving in Nigeria will now have to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel rather than the previous 96 hours period.
“I have hence instructed that all these protocols would be made more stringent to protect the residents of Lagos State from an impending third wave.
“As part of these protocols, passengers are to mandatorily isolate for the required seven days and will be strictly monitored through phone calls by our EKOTELEMED platform and physical visits to the passengers’ homes by our surveillance teams,” while warning about severe consequences against anyone who would refuse to keep to the directives.
“This, I am certain, will help us gather relevant analytic intelligence that is critical for planning and defining treatment protocols,” he said.
He revealed that the state government had built two oxygen plants in Yaba and Gbagada, to up-skill the state’s preparedness to generate oxygen to cater for those who might need it in the days to come.
He said that the third plant would soon be built at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja.
COVID-19 worst days not over
The Lagos State health commissioner reminded the residents not to call it business as usual by believing that COVID-19 is gone, and for that reason fail to follow the laid down non-pharmaceutical interventions earlier mounted to halt the spread of the virus.
He said: “Residents are still advised to stick to the laid down protocols of always wearing face masks in public gatherings, washing of hands and maintaining social distancing, even after receiving the vaccine.”
Speaking in like manner, Dr Salau said: “Indeed, COVID-19 is closer to us than we ever can imagine. The fact that it has not affected any of our very own, does not mean that it does not exist.”
He recalled that “the fact that God has been faithful to us and made things something bearable for the nation does not mean that some people have not lost dear ones. So, we really should be careful about the way we dismiss the virus’ existence with our utterances.
“Let people understand that the first and second waves came, and we were able to survive because we listened to the Ministry of Health. And that did us a lot of good.
“But the subsequent waves are more dangerous. But we might not know that it was because we were able to keep to the rules that saved us from the first and second waves. So, this time round, people should stick to the same guidelines: keep away from the crowd, wear your masks; don’t put your hands in your mouth nose and eyes.
“Then, of course, we ensure that our borders are secured to limit the inflow of in-bound people.”
Vaccination would help
Prof Abayomi admitted that the state had received new 57,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from the Federal Government. He said that the state had started administering them, and expressed optimism that a lot more residents would be vaccinated.
On the efficacy of the vaccine against Covid-19, the NARD president, Dr. Okhuaihesuyi, maintained that the vaccine is for immune boosting and not for prevention as thought by many. Safety protocols, notably, use of face mask, hand sanitisers, among several others, are still required to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Unfortunately, some few millions of the vaccine were brought into Nigeria and were given to frontline health workers, senior government officials and few other privileged people. That was the first dose. The administration of the second dose is expected soon,” he said.
Dr Salau urged many across the country who had not been vaccinated to be patient, saying that “the way the vaccination was schedules was that the front liners and people that have high vulnerability should be the first to receive the jab. The reason is connected to the fact that we have very limited number of doses coming in at this time. So, people that are at risk and going to be exposed to those coming down with the virus are the ones being given the shot so that it will be easier for them to go all out in fighting the war for the nation.”