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    India’s deadly COVID-19 variant: FG expert panel meets today, plans additional measures

    The Federal Government has resolved to introduce additional control measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 strain in India to Nigeria.

    The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, who disclosed this in an interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday, said the issue would be discussed at the ministerial experts’ committee meeting on Monday (today).

    India is currently witnessing what has been described as a devastating second wave of COVID-19 with confirmed cases and deaths increasing in the past weeks.

    The country is said to recording more than a quarter million cases per day.

    One of the new variants circulating in India is referred to as the “double mutant” though it is officially called B.1.617.

    With many Indians in Nigeria and the fact that the index case of the virus in the country was an Italian, there are concerns that the Indian strain may find its way into Nigeria if proper control measures are not put in place.

    The PUNCH, therefore, asked the minister on Sunday the efforts being made by the Federal Government to prevent the strain from entering Nigeria.

    Although he said it had been resolved that additional control measures be put in place, Ehanire did not disclose the details.

    He however said the issue would form discussions at a meeting holding on Monday (today).

    “We resolved to add additional control measures; but we shall discuss all ideas tomorrow (Monday) at the ministerial expert committee meeting,” the minister simply said.

    India is said to have overtaken Brazil to become the second-most affected country in the world.

    With second wave of wreaking havoc in India, a third mutation in this B.1.617 strain has now been identified in at least four states.

    Two of these triple-mutant varieties have been found in samples collected from Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh.

    According to an Indian Express report, sources said the Health Ministry was last week briefed about the possibility of a double mutant variant developing another significant mutation and becoming a ‘triple-mutant.’

    The report further said West Bengal seems to be becoming the hotspot for such mutations and the new triple mutant could make the virus even more capable of evading human immune response.

    According to www.worldometers.info, India currently has 17,306,300 cases out of the world figure 147million; while the country has also recorded 195,116 deaths out of the 3.1million world figure.

    It has also recorded 14,296,640 recoveries.

    The United States currently has 32,814,104 cases, 586,084 deaths and 25,371,747 recoveries; Brazil has 14,308,215 cases, 389,609 deaths and 12,766,772 recoveries; while United Kingdom has 4,404,882 cases,127,428 deaths and 4,193,828 recoveries.

    The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nigeria as of April 24 was 164,684, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. A total of 2,061 deaths have also been recorded while 154,687 people have recovered from the virus.

    According to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, 1,171,515 people have received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the country as of April 25. The percentage of eligible Nigerians who have been vaccinated is 58.2 per cent.

    In the data released by the NPHCDA, Lagos State is leading the vaccination drive and has vaccinated 227,718 people, followed by the Federal Capital Territory, 57,368 and Kaduna, 60,918.

    The President of the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, in an interview with The PUNCH, expressed concern about low level of testing in the country, particularly rural areas.

    “For whatever reasons, African countries, especially Nigeria seem to have a semblance of herd immunity acquisition at this time, evidenced by the decreasing numbers of reported cases and low hospital visits on account of COVID – 19.

    “Rarely does one see people on the streets wearing protective face masks, except those who are compelled to wear them on attempts to enter public government buildings or other enclosed spaces.

    “It is noteworthy to add that there is insufficient testing still, especially involving those in the villages and hinterlands who don’t have good roads and other resources to access health care. Most of these places are devoid of primary health care facilities.”

    Monitor airlines that convey passengers from India – Prof Tomori

    Eminent virologist and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, told The PUNCH that since Nigeria did not have direct flights coming in from India, the country could not place a ban on flights from India like the United Kingdom has done.

    He recalled that this was the challenge during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria in 2020, when Nigeria could not ban flights from China which was the epicentre of the pandemic.

    The former Vice Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, however, said airlines that convey passengers indirectly from India to Nigeria must be closely monitored.

    Tomori said any attempt by the government to ban persons coming from India would not be productive, adding that Nigeria must focus more on testing and monitoring.

    The virologist stated, “We don’t have direct flights from India but there are people that come in through other cities. I know that Ethiopia Airlines goes to India and they bring passengers from India through Addis Ababa to Nigeria. So, with the problem in India, I think it will be good to monitor people coming from there.

    “You must be proactive to study the routes through which people come from India. We should have an idea of the main route through which people come from India and other information. You cannot just place a ban. So, we need home-grown information on the airlines they use and the number that usually come in.

    “The Presidential Steering Committee must look into this. We need proper targeting.”

    Tomori also noted that there was a need for states to do more in monitoring, adding that statistics from the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control in recent time showed that some states now test just one sample in a day.

    This, he said, was not adequate and was giving the country inaccurate statistics on the rate of infection.

    “Some states are testing only one sample in a week. Sometimes only five to eight states send their information to the NCDC. This is why some believe the infection is dropping when in actual fact we are not doing enough testing,” Tomori stated.

    Copyright PUNCH.

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