*Omicron variant outbreak: WHO bemoans poor alert system, says new pandemic accord needed
- Promises $10bn investment in three years
- Aviation agencies vigilant, await FG’s directive
- NCDC harps on vaccination, adherence to protocols
As countries across the world continue to take measures to prevent the spread of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday said his country would offer another one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Nigeria and other African countries. Jinping also promised to encourage Chinese companies to invest at least $10 billion in the continent over the next three years.
The pledge of additional vaccine doses on top of the nearly 200 million that China had supplied to the continent came as concerns mounted over the spread of the new disease variant, which was detected in South Africa.
Though, the Nigerian government said there was no reported case of the Omicron strain in the country. But Nigeria’s aviation agencies said they were on alert to prevent the spread of the virus. That was as the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) urged Nigerians to ensure strict adherence to the proven public health and social measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
In its own response, the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday said countries might have to reach a new agreement on ways to share information on pandemic outbreaks. WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said this in his opening remarks at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly. Ghebreyesus noted that the emergence of the Omicron variant underlined how perilous and precarious the situation could be.
In a speech given via video link at the opening of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, Jinping said a China-Africa cross-border Yuan centre would be set up to provide African financial institutions a credit line of $10 billion. But he gave no further details.
China’s total imports from Africa, one of its key sources of crude oil and mineral supply, would reach $300 billion in the next three years, the Chinese president said. He added that the two sides would cooperate in areas, such as health, digital innovation, trade promotion, and green development.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus carries a very high global risk of surges, WHO warned on Monday, as more countries reported cases, prompting border closures and reviving worries about the economic recovery from a two-year pandemic.
Scientists have said it could take weeks to understand the severity of the new variant. Its emergence has caused a strong global reaction, with countries imposing travel curbs and other restrictions, worried that it could spread fast even in vaccinated populations.
The Chinese leader said his country would donate 600 million vaccine doses directly, while a further 400 million doses would come from other sources, such as investments in production sites.
Jinping’s promise came as part of a forum between China and African states with a focus on trade and security, which was held in the city of Diamniadio, near Senegal’s seaside capital, Dakar.
“We must continue to fight together against COVID. We must prioritise the protection of our people and close the vaccination gap,” Jinping told participants at the summit.
Vaccination rates in Africa are low compared with the rest of the world, with many countries at the mercy of foreign donations due to the lack of local production facilities and prohibitive costs of mass purchases.
Beijing invests heavily in Africa, and is the continent’s largest trading partner with direct trade worth more than $200 billion in 2019, according to the Chinese embassy in Dakar.
Meanwhile, Ghebreyesus commended South Africa and Botswana for detecting, sequencing, and reporting the Omicron variant.
“Indeed, Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics: our current system disincentisises countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores,” the WHO director general said.
Ghebreyesus said COVID-19 had exposed and exacerbated fundamental weaknesses in the global architecture for pandemic preparedness and response. According to him, global health security is too important to be left to chance, goodwill, shifting geopolitical currents, or the vested interests of companies and shareholders
“The best way we can address them is with a legally binding agreement between nations; an accord forged from the recognition that we have no future but a common future,” he stated.
“Then surely – surely – the time has come for countries to agree on a common, binding approach to a common threat that we cannot fully control nor prevent – a threat that comes from our relationship with nature itself,” he added.
WHO warned its 194 member-nations that any surge in infections could have “severe consequences”, but said no deaths linked to the Omicron variant had been reported so far.
Ghebreyesus said Omicron’s emergence showed how “perilous and precarious” the situation was and called on health ministers meeting in Geneva to pursue a new accord on pandemics.
Omicron COVID-19: Aviation Agencies on Alert, Await FG’s Directive
Despite announcing solidarity with South Africa over its travails following discovery of the Omicron COVID-19 variant in that country, Nigeria’s aviation authorities said they were on alert to prevent the spread of the virus. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) disclosed yesterday that it was awaiting further directives from the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) to know the next action to take in the effort to prevent the new virus from coming to Nigeria.
Spokesman of NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, said all measures and directives usually came from the committee, which directed NCAA on what to enforce.
Adurogboye said, “We are waiting for the Presidential Steering Committee to issue directives on ways to prevent the spread of the new variant to Nigeria. NCAA can only enforce the federal government directives.”
General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, told THISDAY that while waiting for the directives from the Presidential Steering Committee, every FAAN official at the international airports had been kept on high alert.
Yakubu said the agencies and Port Health officials had been given clear orders to ensure no passengers from the affected countries entered the country unscreened.
She stated, “We are waiting for directive from the steering committee, but there have been a serious reinforcement at Port Health. All the airport managers are on high alert because this is a dangerous variant, which is deadly.
“There will be an enforcement of all the protocols and procedures put in place for the COVID-19 already on ground. All the agencies concerned and Port Health, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, FAAN and others have all been put on notice to ensure no passenger comes into the country with this variant.”
NCDC Urges Nigerians to Vaccinate, Observe Protocols
In a related development, the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC urged Nigerians to ensure strict adherence to the public health and social measures put in place in view of the new COVID-19 variant.
However, the disease control centre said the variant has so far not been detected in the country.
In a statement issued by NCDC Director General, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, the centre said, “We are aware of reports of a new COVID-19 variant – the B.1.1.529 lineage. This SARS-CoV-2 variant has now been designated a variant of concern (VOC) and named Omicron by WHO as advised by the independent Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).”
Considering the likelihood of increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its linkage to unmitigated community transmission, NCDC urged Nigerians to ensure strict adherence to the proven public health and social measures in place. The measures are enforced by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 (PSC-COVID-19), through the COVID-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021.
The NCDC boss said in order to reduce the risk of importation or spread of the Omicron variant in Nigeria, Nigerians should make use of the current opportunities to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
He urged strict adherence to the public health and social measures, which include wearing of facemasks, especially in crowded settings, washing of hands regularly, physical distancing, and good ventilation.
Others are avoiding travel to countries where there is a surge in COVID-19 cases or reported cases of the Omicron variant and avoiding all non-essential travels, both local and international.
The centre said the virus was more likely to spread where people gathered without adhering to these measures. It appealed to business owners, religious leaders, and people in authority to take responsibility by ensuring people in their premises wore facemasks and adhered to physical distancing.
“If you must travel, please, adhere to travel protocols instituted by the PSC-COVID-19, which are in place to prevent the risk of importation of the virus or its variants to Nigeria,” the statement said.
The statement said WHO had also urged countries to enhance their surveillance and virus sequencing efforts to increase their understanding of the circulating variants.
The Federal Ministry of Health and NCDC said they were monitoring emerging evidence on the new variant and its implication.
Canada on Sunday said it had detected its first cases of the new Omicron strain of COVID-19 in two persons who arrived the country from Nigeria. But the federal government stated that the new variant had not yet been reported not in Nigeria.
However, industry stakeholders observed that no airline flew directly from Nigeria to any destination in Canada. Therefore, it was expected that Canada would give details of where the two Nigerians connected their flight from after leaving Nigeria, and whether they spent some days in the country from where they connected heir flight to Canada.
After South Africa announced the discovery of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some countries banned flights from the African country. But Nigeria expressed solidarity with South Africa.
The Nigerian government on Monday warned Western countries against discrimination against South Africa following travel restrictions imposed on Southern African countries in the aftermath of the new virus discovery.