From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said on Wednesday that its system has detected the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.
The NCDC said the variant was detected in the cause of its genomic surveillance for inbound international travellers arriving in the country at its National Reference Laboratory (NRL), Abuja and a network of other testing laboratories.
NCDC Director General Dr Ifedayo Adetifa explained in a statement that samples obtained for the stipulated day two test for all travellers to Nigeria were positive for the variant in three persons with a history of travel to South Africa.
He said that sequencing of samples from COVID-19 positive inbound travellers was being conducted in laboratories with sequencing capacity in the country and all the sequencing data are shared in publicly accessible databases.
‘These cases were recent arrivals in the country in the past week. Follow up to ensure isolation, linkage to clinical care, contact tracing and other relevant response activities have commenced,’ he said.
‘Equally, arrangements are also being made to notify country where travel originated according to the provisions of the International Health Regulations.’
The NCDC assumes that Omicron variant is widespread globally given the increasing number of countries reporting it. ‘Therefore, it is a matter of when not if, we will identify more cases.
‘We would continue to expand our sequencing capacity in-country at the NCDC-NRL, through our network of public health laboratories and other partners.
‘Our focus is to complete sequencing of recently accrued samples of SARS-COV-2 positive travelers from all countries, especially those from countries that have reported the Omicron variant already,’ Dr Adetifa said.
He said that since reports of the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Federal Ministry of Health through the NCDC has intensified public health response measures to COVID-19 in Nigeria.
‘The national travel advisory has also been revised by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, and now requires all inbound travelers to Nigeria present a negative COVID-19 test result done not more than 48 hours before departure,’ he added.
‘Similarly, pre-booking and payment for all day two and day seven COVID-19 PCR tests are prerequisites for travel. In addition, all outbound passengers regardless of the requirements of destination countries are expected to present evidence of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test done not later than 48 hours before departure.’
He appealed to Nigerians to adhere strictly to these travel protocols and other public safety measures to protect themselves, families, friends, the community at large and to prevent a fourth wave of COVID-19 in the country.
The NCDC recommended that states ensure sample collection and testing should remain widely accessible so that people who have symptoms or have been exposed to a positive case get tested quickly in healthcare and other settings.
This, it said, can be achieved through increased COVID-19 testing using approved antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) that are being rolled out by the NCDC and partners as well as PCR tests where applicable.
‘Vaccination also reduces community transmission and States should effectively implement ongoing mass vaccination campaigns and encourage citizens to make use of every available opportunity to get vaccination,’ the NCDC suggested.