Amid palpable fear over possible cases of the dreaded Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus in the country, the federal government is set to begin the enforcement of compulsory vaccination for federal workers beginning tomorrow, December 1, 2021.
This is as Canada and Hong Kong have announced detecting the new strain in three people who travelled recently to the two countries from Nigeria.
The government of the Canadian city of Ontario confirmed that the two cases are in the capital Ottawa. Both patients are in isolation while public health authorities trace their possible contacts, federal and Ontario provincial officials said.
“I was informed today by the Public Health Agency of Canada that testing and monitoring of COVID-19 cases has confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of concern in Ontario,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a statement on Sunday.
“As the monitoring and testing continues, it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada.”
The statement did not specifically say whether the two travellers detected with the variant were Nigerian nationals, but said the variant was highly transmissible and required “urgent action.”
The Omicron variant was recently discovered in South Africa and it has led to panic worldwide as many countries of the world including the EU, United Kingdom and the United States have banned flights to and from South Africa and other southern African countries in a bid to contain the variant despite warning by the World Health Organisation (WHO) against countries hastily imposing travel curbs.
To reduce the transmission of the Omicron variant and out of an abundance of caution, Ottawa Public Health, Canada, advised individuals who have been in Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Namibia, within 14 days before arriving in Ottawa, and members of their households to immediately self-isolate even if fully vaccinated.
The WHO has listed Omicron as a “variant of concern” stressing that it could take several weeks to know if there are significant changes in transmissibility, severity, or implications for COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.
On Friday, Canada banned travel from seven African countries over concerns about the spread of the Omicron strain. Nigeria was not one of them.
Meanwhile a 37-year-old male who travelled from Nigeria has been identified as the third case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Hong Kong, health officials reported at a news briefing yesterday.
According to government data, the man had transited through Ethiopia and arrived in Hong Kong on November 24. He had been quarantining at the Ramada Hong Kong Grand View hotel before testing positive for the variant.
The man was asymptomatic and had received two doses of the Moderna vaccine, Sophia Chan, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Food and Health, said in the briefing.
“Our existing system is robust and also able to stop any transmission,” Chan added, stating that the use of boarding requirements, quarantine and testing enabled them to prevent the new COVID-19 variant entering the community.
The WHO yesterday said its scientists and other scientists around the world are working urgently to find answers the questions that have arisen from the discovery of Omicron.
Director-general of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who stated this yesterday at the special session of the World Health Assembly, said, “We don’t yet know whether Omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more risk of reinfections, or more risk of evading vaccines. Scientists at WHO and around the world are working urgently to answer these questions.”
He, therefore, urged all countries to be wide awake to the threat of the virus, stating that the “Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder although many of us might think we are done with COVID-19, it is not done with us.
“The South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant, not penalised.”
Lamenting that more than 80 per cent of the world’s vaccines have gone to G20 countries, Ghebreyesus said low-income countries, most of them in Africa, have received just 0.6 per cent of all vaccines.
“We understand and support every government’s responsibility to protect its own people; it’s natural, but vaccine equity is not charity; it’s in every country’s best interests. No country can vaccinate its way out of the pandemic alone. The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more opportunity this virus has to spread and evolve in ways we cannot predict nor prevent.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful demonstration that health is not a luxury, but a human right; not a cost, but an investment; not simply an outcome of development, but the foundation of social, economic and political stability and security.
“In the coming months and years, other crises will demand our attention, and distract us from the urgency of taking action now. Now is the time for all countries to make the choice to invest in a healthier, safer and fairer future. Global health security is too important to be left to chance, or goodwill, or shifting geopolitical currents, or the vested interests of companies and shareholders,” he said.
On its part, the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 said it is currently monitoring the situation around the world concerning Omicron, stressing that enforcement of vaccination for federal workers will begin tomorrow.
Speaking at the national briefing yesterday, the chairman of the PSC, Boss Mustapha said: “As the director general of the World Health Organisation, WHO, has just stated today (yesterday), the emergence of the highly-mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is.
“Nigerians and residents are therefore urged to get fully vaccinated, frequently tested, and continue to strictly adhere to the non-pharmaceutical intervention measures, including physical distancing, properly wearing of face masks, ensure proper ventilation and hand hygiene.
“However, the PSC is reviewing the situation around the world and putting in place measures to curtail the impact of the variant on the country.”
He further said “the PSC is aware of some travellers who have resolved to circumvent the travel protocols by providing fake COVID-19 test results, permits or travel certificates or declaring fake vaccination status at our points of entry. The weight of the law is heavy and will come hard on these people.”
Speaking on December 1 deadline for vaccine mandate for civil servants, the PSC chairman said “the vaccine mandate will come into effect fully on December 1, 2021 and I encourage every federal government worker and, in essence, all Nigerians and residents to get vaccinated.
“The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) is ramping up vaccination around the country to ensure that citizens have access to the vaccines wherever they may be. The vaccines are now available, so we need people to go get their jabs.
“With the developments around the world, people will not be able to travel without their verified vaccination cards.”
On the suspension of ban on Emirates Airlines, the chairman said “the PSC will want to inform you that the impasse on the Nigeria – UAE flights have been resolved in the interest of both parties. A date for the commencement of flights between the two countries will be announced in due course.”
Meanwhile, the German vaccine manufacturer, Biontech, has announced that it is developing an adapted vaccine.
The vaccine is to serve as a precautionary measure while simultaneously carrying out research on the nature of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“To avoid wasting time, we are tackling these two tasks in parallel until the data is available and we have more information on whether the vaccine needs to be adapted or not,’’ a Biontech spokeswoman said yesterday.
The two undertakings even partially coincide, according to Biontech, “We immediately began studies on the Omicron variant. We have also taken initial steps to develop a potential new vaccine, which overlap with the laboratory tests,’’ the company said.
The laboratory tests were necessary to assess whether a new vaccine is necessary or not. The process involves serum from vaccinated individuals being exposed to the spike protein of the variant to examine how it reacts.
“The goal of this approach is to move quickly in development should a variant-specific vaccine be required,’’ the company said.
Biontech earlier said the new variant was significantly different from previously observed variants because it had additional mutations on the spike protein.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has called on Nigerians to continue to observe COVID-19 protocols against spread of the virus.
“The virus is more likely to spread where people gather and do not adhere to these measures. Therefore we appeal to business owners, religious leaders, and people in authority to take responsibility by ensuring people in their premises wear masks and adhere to physical distancing.
“We are collectively responsible for our own health security including playing our part to reduce the risk of the importation or spread of the Omicron variant in Nigeria.
“We must do all we can to protect ourselves and our country.”
Omicron Variant: AfDB Postpones 2021 Africa Investment Forum
The African Development Bank (AfDB) group has postponed, indefinitely, the 2021 Africa Investment Forum (AIB) scheduled for December 1-3 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, until further notice.
President of AfDB, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, in a statement issued yesterday in Abidjan, said that the postponement was in relation to travel restrictions arising from the emergence of the Covid-19 Omicron variant.
He said that the postponement of the event followed consultations with the government of Côte d’Ivoire and the board of directors of AfDB.
According to him, the AIF is the premier investment marketplace for Africa.
“Several billion dollars of investment projects were scheduled for investment board rooms with project sponsors and investors at this edition of the AIF.
“Unfortunately, with rising global travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 Omicron variant, and heightened concerns for health and safety, it is necessary, regrettably, to postpone the event.
The health and safety of everyone comes first.
He said that the bank and the government of Côte d’Ivoire wished to thank previously expected participants and delegations and look forward to hosting the event at a future date.
“We sincerely regret all inconveniences to our esteemed and expected heads of state and government, participants, project sponsors, investors and government delegations.
The event, also referred to as ”AIF 2021 Market Days” was to be held in a hybrid format featuring physical and virtual participation.
With the theme: “Accelerating Transformative Investments in Africa”, it reflects the urgent need to attract greater inflows of private capital into business and investment across Africa, a need sharpened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Opportunities to be showcased at the event were expected to drive Africa’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A flagship initiative of the AfDB, the forum was launched in 2018 with seven other founding partners.
They are: Africa 50, the Africa Finance Corporation, the African Export-Import Bank, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Trade and Development Bank, the European Investment Bank and the Islamic Development Bank.