By Adedapo Adesanya
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said it is on high alert amid global concerns over new strains of COVID-19.
This was made known yesterday at a press conference in Abuja, where the health body said over 663 million confirmed cases and over 6.7 million deaths had been reported globally.
Speaking at the event, NCDC Director General, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, said: “Globally, more than three million new cases and ten thousand deaths have been reported in the week of December 26, 2022, to January 1, 2023. This represents a reduction in weekly cases and deaths of 22 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively.
“The African Region reports a 73 per cent and 32 per cent decrease in new cases and deaths compared to the previous week.
“In the Americas and Western Pacific (including China), there has been a 74 per cent and 29 per cent increase in cases and a 49 per cent and 35 per cent increase in deaths, respectively. The increase in these countries, in part, is a component of the winter exacerbation of respiratory illness,” the DG said.
Dr Adetifa said the resurgence of COVID-19 in China, following the relaxation of the country’s zero-COVID policy and the unsurprising increase in cases, hospitalisation and deaths, also attracts concerns about the possible emergence of new variants.
He said the variants circulating in China are predominantly BA.5.2 and Bf.7. According to him, these variants have been circulating in other parts of the world, including Nigeria, since 2022.
The Omicron sub-variant, XBB.1.5, which was originally detected in New York in October 2022, is also on the increase in the US and Europe and has now been identified in more than 25 countries. The XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible form of Omicron, but it is not clear if it is more virulent than its ancestor.
The epidemiologist noted that in Nigeria, NCDC has 5,708,974 samples tested, 266,463 confirmed cases, 259,850 discharged cases and, unfortunately 3,155 deaths recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
He said COVID-19 has and continues to follow a different epidemiological course in Nigeria and most of Africa, with lesser cases, admissions, and deaths from the Omicron sub-lineages.
On efforts to contain the current threat, he said: “The NCDC-led COVID-19 Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) is closely monitoring the rise in the new Omicron sub-lineage, XBB.1.5, in the U.K. and U.S., and the current resurgence in China and other countries with a high volume of traffic to and from Nigeria.
“The sub-lineages partly responsible for the current increase in COVID-19 cases in other countries (XBB. 1.5 and BF.7) have not yet been detected in the country as of November 2022. We are working on completing testing and analysis for December 2022.
“Since the detection of the Omicron variant in December 2021, its sub-lineage (BQ.1/BQ.1.1) has been dominant in Nigeria.
“It is important to note that regardless of COVID-19 variants in different parts of the world, severe disease, admissions, and deaths disproportionately affect the unvaccinated and those with established risk factors, such as older people and people with co-morbidities.
“The most important action for Nigerians to take is to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as the vaccine is the most important intervention for preventing severe disease, hospitalisation, and death.
“Additionally, though COVID-19 protocols and restrictions have been eased, people at high risk for severe COVID-19 are advised to continue to adhere to recommended non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPIs), such as the use of face masks, good hand and respiratory hygiene and avoidance of crowded spaces.”
On other infectious diseases, he said: “We continue to respond to infectious diseases, including Lassa fever, Mpox, and more. To date, there are 8,202 suspected cases and 1,067 confirmed cases of Lassa fever across 27 states and 112 council areas.
“Cumulatively, from Week 1 to Week 52, 2022, 189 deaths have been reported with a case fatality rate (FR) of 17.7 per cent, which is lower than the CFR for the same period in 2021 (20.0 per cent). 72 per cent of all confirmed Lassa fever cases in 2022 were reported from three states (Ondo, Edo and Bauchi).
“Most recently, the NCDC, in collaboration with partners, federal and state stakeholders of the Technical Working Group (TWG), successfully conducted finalisation and validation of a five-year strategic plan to reduce Lassa fever fatality ratio in the country to less than ten per cent.
“We continually appeal to Nigerians to practice personal and environmental hygiene to prevent the infestation of rats in our homes and communities, especially during this dry season, which is when we typically record more cases of Lassa fever cases.”