Omicron variant: Ban travels from S’Africa, others, virologists tell FG


Renowned virologists in Nigeria have called on the Federal Government to be swift in its emergency response to the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 strain of COVID-19, first detected in South Africa.

The virologists including the Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof Oyewale Tomori; ex-National Chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, Prof Tanimola Akande; and a Professor of Medical Virology at the University of Maiduguri, Prof Marycelin Baba, made this known in separate interviews with Sunday PUNCH.

They warned that tardiness on the part of the government could make the nation slip into the fourth wave of COVID-19, especially as the Christmas and New Year festivities approach.

This is as the Secretary to the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Dr Muktar Muhammed, told Sunday PUNCH that the Federal Government would monitor trends before taking necessary decisions, including the possible imposition of flight ban on southern African countries.

The World Health Organisation had on Friday declared the new COVID-19 strain first discovered in South Africa to be a variant of concern and renamed it Omicron.

The classification puts Omicron into the most-troubling category of Covid-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta, plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

“Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in Covid-19 epidemiology… the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern, named Omicron,” the UN health agency had said in a statement.

Nations including Britain, the United States and the European Union have banned flights from Southern African to slow the spread of Omicron, even as the South African government said it was being punished over what it described as a false alarm.

The WHO said it could take several weeks to complete studies of Omicron to see if there are any changes in transmissibility, severity or implications for Covid vaccines, tests and treatments.

Omicron is about the fifth variant of COVID-19 discovered and named since the outbreak of the pandemic about two years ago.

The variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on Wednesday. The first known confirmed Omicron infection was from a specimen collected on November 9.  In recent weeks, infections in South Africa have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said, pointing to worrying characteristics.

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs.”

It said the number of Omicron cases appeared to be increasing in almost all provinces of South Africa.

Apart from South Africa, Omicron has been detected in Israel in a person coming from Malawi; Botswana; Belgium and Hong Kong.

South Africa being ‘punished’ for honesty over new COVID-19 variant – Health ministry

South Africa, whose citizens have suddenly become persona-non-grata around the world after the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant in the country, says it is being “punished” and unfairly treated for sounding the alarm.

The government in the country worst hit by the pandemic on the continent is seething over the stigma it has suffered in the past 48 hours for being the bearer of bad news.

The decision by many countries around the world to ban flights from Southern Africa following the discovery of the variant, named Omicron, “is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker,”…


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