28 November 2021 | Abuja – NCDC Statement on Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variant
The Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) 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 the the World Health Organisation (WHO) as advised by the independent Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). WHO has also urged countries to enhance their surveillance and virus sequencing efforts to increase their understanding of the circulating variants.
The FMOH and NCDC is monitoring emerging evidence on this new variant and its implication, to inform Nigeria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The variant was first identified from testing done on 9th November 2021 in Botswana on travellers from West Africa. It was reported to WHO on identification of cases among a cluster of young unvaccinated people in South Africa on 24 November 2021. While this variant has so far NOT been detected in Nigeria, a number of cases have now been reported in the UK, Israel, Botswana, Hong-Kong, Germany, Belgium, Italy and counting. However, no deaths have been attributed to this new variant yet. A total of 126 genomes of this variant have been detected globally and published on GISAID, (GISAID is a global mechanism for sharing sequencing data).
Given the high number of mutations present in this Omicron variant and the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases observed in South Africa, this virus is considered highly transmissible and may also present an increased risk of reinfection compared to other VOCs. However, the fears about its ability to evade protective immune responses and/or its being vaccine resistant are only theoretical so far. This virus can still be detected with existing Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. The WHO and researchers across the world are working at speed to gain understanding of the likely impact of this variant on the severity of COVID-19 and on the potency of existing vaccines and therapeutics.
The NCDC continues to ensure daily review of surveillance data and uses this to inform public health decision making. Therefore, we urge all States to ensure that sample collection and testing are accessible, so that travellers, people with symptoms or who have been exposed to COVID-19 cases get tested promptly.
The NCDC, through the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) continues to coordinate genomic surveillance and other activities required for the detection of variants. The NCDC assumes global spread of this variant has occurred and it is prioritising sequencing of recently accrued samples from SARS-COV-2 positive travellers from all countries, especially those from countries that have reported the Omicron variant already.
In collaboration with Port Health Services of the Federal Ministry of Health, enhanced surveillance is ongoing at the airports and points of entry, and to ensure compliance with current travel guidance especially for the day 2 COVID-19 PCR testing. Should there be any changes to travel guidance, this will be communicated in due course.
Considering the highly likely increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its emergence that is linked to unmitigated community transmission of the virus, the NCDC urges Nigerians to ensure strict adherence to the proven public health and social measures in place, which are enforceable by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 (PSC-COVID-19), through the COVID-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021. 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.
The NCDC implores Nigerians to do the following:
Make every use of the currently available opportunities to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Adhere to public health and social measures that have been proven to help prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection regardless of the circulating variant. These include:
Wearing face masks especially in crowded settings.
Washing hands regularly.
Physical distancing i.e., keeping a distance of two metres from others where possible.
Ensuring good ventilation.
Avoid travel to countries where there is a surge in COVID-19 cases or reported cases of the Omicron variant.
Avoid all non-essential travel both local and international. 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 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 must do all we can to protect ourselves and our country.
About the NCDC
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control is the country’s national public health institute, with the mandate to lead the preparedness, detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks and public health emergencies. The Bill for an Act to establish NCDC was signed into law in November 2018, by President Muhammadu Buhari. The mission for the NCDC (2017-2021) is ‘To protect the health of Nigerians through evidence-based prevention, integrated disease surveillance and response activities, using a One Health approach, guided by research and led by a skilled workforce’.
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Dr Ifedayo Adetifa
Nigeria Centre for Disease Control