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COVID-19: Anxiety mounts as Nigeria records first case of ‘most transmissible’ delta variant

The Federal Government of Nigeria has announced that a case of the dangerous Delta Variant has been recorded in a traveller in the country.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in a statement issued on Thursday night, noted that the development raises a grave concern.

The Delta Variant

Tagged SARS-CoV-2, and also known as lineage B.1.617.2., the delta variant has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the ‘most transmissible variant.’

According to the global body, the variant is responsible for the spike in about 98 countries across the world where it has been reported.

Speaking on June 26 on the variant, the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said a surge in cases translates to more hospitalisations, which he noted has continued to stretch healthcare workers and health systems “while putting more at risk of death.”

Mr Ghebreyesus acknowledged that new variants were expected, saying “that’s what viruses do, they evolve”. He said that by preventing transmission, “we can stem the emergence of variants”.

“It’s quite simple: more transmission, more variants. Less transmission, less variants,” he said, noting that it is even more urgent today to prevent transmission by consistently using public health and social measures along with vaccines.

The Nigeria’s disease centre said it is not yet confirmed how the new variant reacts to the vaccines in circulation.

Delta variant in Nigeria

In its statement on Thursday night, the NCDC authorities said it was able to identify the variant through the country’s concerted efforts to combat the spread of the pandemic in the country.

The statement by the NCDC said it was recorded in a traveller to Nigeria at its national reference laboratory in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

The statement reads in full:

08 July 2021 | Abuja – Confirmed Case of Delta Variant Detected in Nigeria

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has detected a confirmed case with the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, also known as lineage B.1.617.2. The variant was detected in a traveler to Nigeria, following the routine travel test required of all international travelers and genomic sequencing at the NCDC National Reference Laboratory, Abuja.

The Delta variant is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a variant of concern, given its increased transmissibility. The variant has been detected in over 90 countries and is expected to spread to more countries. The variant has also been linked to a surge in cases in countries where it is the dominant strain in circulation. There are ongoing studies to understand the impact of the variant on existing vaccines and therapeutics.

As part of Nigeria’s COVID-19 response, NCDC has been working with the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), African Centre for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), and other laboratories within the national network, to carry out genomic sequencing. This is to enable the detection of variants of concern, and initiate response activities. All data on variants from Nigeria have been published on GISAID, a global mechanism for sharing sequencing data. Given the global risk of spread of the Delta variant, positive samples from international travelers to Nigeria are sequenced regularly.

The Government of Nigeria through the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) has initiated several measures to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19. This includes the introduction of travel restrictions from countries where there is a surge in cases associated with widespread prevalence of variants of concern. The national travel protocol which includes compulsory seven-day self-isolation and repeat test on the seventh day after arrival, are in place to reduce the risk of spread of the virus. It is very important that this is strictly adhered to, to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases in Nigeria.

Given the high transmissibility of the Delta variant and following its detection in Nigeria, NCDC urges all Nigerians to ensure strict adherence to public health and social measures in place. Proven public health and social measures such as physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and proper use of face masks, prevent infections and save lives. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective and offers protection against the disease.

Additionally, states are urged to ensure sample collection and testing for COVID-19 is accessible to the public. Public settings such as schools with accommodation facilities, workplaces and camps should utilise the approved Antigen-based Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) for rapid testing of their population.

According to the Director-General of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, “Although we have seen a low number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria in the last eight weeks, it is incredibly important that we do not forget to be careful. The surge in cases in countries across the world and Africa is an important reminder of the risk we face. Please protect yourselves and the people you love by adhering to the known public health and social measures, getting vaccinated if you are eligible and getting tested if you have symptoms”.

The recommended control measures to limit the spread of the Delta variant continue to be testing, following the existing public health guidance and abiding by the current travel and public restrictions

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