The Federal Government is investigating claims by Nigerian scientists that the mutated variant of the coronavirus recently discovered in the United Kingdom has been existing in Nigeria for several months.
The Presidential Task Force (PTF), on Covid-19 also hinted that the Covid vaccine would be administered on Nigerians free when vaccination begins.
The new variant, according to the World Health Organisation, WHO, is apparently more infectious, and has already been identified in a number of countries including Australia, Denmark, Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands, while a similar variant, which emerged separately but shares the same mutation in its spike protein, has been detected in South Africa.
Meanwhile, following the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, has announced fresh measures to curtail the spread of the virus.
In a related development, Ondo State Government, yesterday, cancelled crossover service by churches across the state ahead of the New Year.
Also, worried by the increasing positive Covid-19 cases in the state, the Kwara State government has imposed a partial lock down across the state, even as it ordered strict compliance with Covil-19 safety protocols among all stakeholders in the state.
The Ekiti State Government has also imposed fresh restrictions to safeguard public health following a spike in the cases of Covid-19 in the state.
National Coordinator of PTF on Covid-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, who spoke, yesterday, said that the PTF was in touch with Professor Christian Happi, a professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics, and another scientist, Ify Aniebo, both of who carried out studies that discovered UK’s “lineage B.1.1.7” mutant variant of the Coronavirus.
The two scientists, who are of the African Centre of Excellence for the Genomics of Infectious Diseases, Redeemer’s University, Nigeria, in Ede, Osun State, reported the collection of samples from Osun State in August and October, both of which showed the presence of the new variant.
“We have reached out to Professor Happi to seek additional clarifications with regards to this and we are also talking to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC. What is really vital at this stage is to immediately do sequencing. I know the sequencing that Professor Happi’s group has done in the past involved about 250 samples, so that’s really low. “What we need to do and most of the things he did, were in August or September, so we are much further down the line now and we need to do is to make sure that we sequence as many outlets as we have now,” Aliyu said.
Allaying fears over the development, the PTF coordinator said that it was not unusual that coronavirus strains replicate very quickly even as he pointed out that the new UK variant is now found in other countries. “Just to allay public anxiety, the strain that has been described in the UK and also now in South Africa and in Australia and in some other countries, what has been shown is that it is more transmissible based on grove studies.
“But there’s no human epidemiological link that suggests that it is more deadly at the moment and certainly, with coronaviruses, they always tend to change, that’s why if you catch a common cold for instance and you get better, the next day if you see someone with a cold, you are just as likely to go down with it.
“They are strains that continue to replicate very quickly, so it’s not surprising that we have a new strain that is being described at the moment. But it’s still early in the day, yet in terms of the science and even within the UK, there’s still a lot of debate as to how different it is from previous strains.
“We are not trying to say we should ignore the problem, we had a very long discussion on Tuesday at the PTF, a debate that lasted well over an hour with different aspects being looked at and we’ll continue to monitor this very closely. We’ve already asked Professor Happy to provide us with additional clarification because they’ve been working for the NCDC as well,” he noted.
Nigerians will get Covid-19 vaccine free— PTF
The PTF National Coordinator also hinted that the COVID-19 vaccine will be administered on Nigerians free when vaccination begins.
Speaking on Channel TV’s Sunrise Daily, yesterday, , Aliyu said through the GAVI arrangement, there was the assurance that over 40 million Nigerians will be vaccinated.
GAVI is a vaccine alliance of which bid to find solution to the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic through vaccines birthed COVAX.
COVAX is one of the three pillars of Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) accelerator. It was launched in April by WHO, the European Commission and France, bringing together governments, manufacturers, scientists, the private sector, philanthropy and the civil society in response to the pandemic and ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 vaccine and treatments when available.
“On Tuesday, the president gave the PTF the mandate to proceed with preparations with regard to the vaccine. The president has also given us a marching order that the Covid-19 vaccine be available in Nigeria. Making use of the GAVI arrangement, we already have assurance that 20 percent of our population will be accommodated by GAVI in the vaccine. We don’t need to pay for that and this will cover 40 million Nigerians or so. But we have to pay for the operations and the logistics associated with it. “We are also planning to pay for an additional 20 to 40 percent. In general, over the next two years, at least 70 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated before we can have enough herd immunity. The Pfizer vaccine is one of the most effective vaccines at the moment.”
Asked if the vaccine would be administered free, Aliyu said, “of course, of course.”
He advised Nigerians not to discard safety measures already in place just because of the vaccine.
Mutant variant traced to South Africa
The WHO said: “Initial analysis indicates that the variant may spread more readily between people. Investigations are ongoing to determine if this variant is associated with any changes in the severity of symptoms, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. The variant is defined by the presence of a range of 14 mutations resulting in amino acid changes and three deletions. Some of these mutations may influence the transmissibility of the virus in humans.
“One of the mutations identified (N501Y) is altering an amino acid within the six key residues in the receptor binding domain (RBD). According to the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) database, this same receptor binding domain mutation (N501Y) has been independently reported in several countries including South Africa and Australia.
“Sequence analysis revealed that N501Y mutation of the virus reported in the United Kingdom and South Africa originated separately,” the WHO noted.
FCT shuts bars, clubs, others, limits wedding guests to 50
Chief Press Secretary to the FCT Minister, Anthony Ogunleye in a statement, yesterday, said the minister, Malam Muhammad Bello announced the guidelines after an emergency Covid-19 meeting in the wake of the second wave of the pandemic.
“Accordingly, all bars, night clubs, pubs, events and recreational venues in the FCT are to remain closed for the next five weeks,” the minister said.
Other measures announced were that “all restaurants, except those providing services to hotel residents, takeaways, home deliveries and drive-ins are to remain closed. All informal and formal festivity events including weddings, conferences, congresses, office parties, concerts, seminars, sporting activities, end of year events etc in the FCT are restricted to not more than 50 persons. “Facilities for religious events are restricted to less than 50 percent of capacity of use during which physical distancing; mandatory use of face masks and hand hygiene are to be strictly enforced. “Events of more than 50 persons are to be held outdoors only and virtual meetings are strongly encouraged; public transportation systems are to carry passengers not more than 50 percent of their capacity in compliance with social distancing rules.”