Covid-19 resurgence: Danger as citizens jettison protocols



‘…Wearing face masks uncomfortable’

…Third wave‘ll be more severe – Don

‘…Govt should raise awareness, enforce rules’

…More variants may come in future if … – Virologist

…Nigeria expecting 41,282,770 vaccines – FG

Nigeria is currently experiencing a spike in the Covd-19 pandemic with the discovery of the new deadlier Delta variant of the disease in some parts of the country. BENJAMIN SAMSON in this report examines the dangers of abandoning safety protocols amidst rising cases.

The federal government had last year placed the country on a lockdown among other stringent measures as part of efforts to contain the pandemic. The policy caused changes in personal hygiene among Nigerians as they tried to protect themselves from being infected by the virus.

Deadlier variant

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had in July detected a confirmed case with the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, also known as Lineage B.1.617.2.

The Centre, in a statement, disclosed that the variant was detected in a traveller to Nigeria, following the routine travel tests required of all international travellers and genomic sequencing at the NCDC National Reference Laboratory, Abuja.

The deadlier Delta variant is recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a variant of concern, given its increased transmissibility. The variant has been detected in over 90 countries and is expected to spread to more countries, according to the NCDC.

The NCDC Head of Communications, Dr. Yahya Disu, in the statement, said the variant had also been linked to a surge in cases in countries where it is the dominant strain in circulation.

 He said, “Taking into consideration the continued Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria, especially the current finding of the very infective Delta variant of the virus in Nigeria, it is noted that the Delta variant is currently wreaking havoc in many African, Asian and Western countries. The variant has overwhelmed the health systems in countries such as South Africa.

“The Delta variant has been reported to be responsible for the current emerging third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria.”

Threats

Public health experts have warned that the Delta variant of Covid-19 first detected in India remains a big threat to Nigeria, noting that it could spark a surge of the viral infection that will be difficult to contain.

A pharmaceutical research scientist, Dr. Uche Enemalu, said the government should immediately begin to put in place measures to contain the variant confirmed to be responsible for a massive resurgence of Covid-19 infections, as well as deaths, in many countries of the world in the last few weeks.    

“In fact, it is 60 per cent more transmissible than other variants and the faster the transmissibility, the more difficult it is to contain.

 “Ask people in Europe, see the situation in the USA, follow the figures from South Africa, Uganda and other African countries, and you will see we are dealing with an invasive, evasive and elusive variant that is transmitted rapidly and causes serious illness.

“To be forewarned is to be forewarned. A warning is not enough anymore; arming ourselves with masks, safe distance and a vaccine is the way to go. Enough of reactive red alert warnings; we must move to combat readiness,” he said.

 Perception, abandoning protocols

Despite the detection of the Delta variant and a surge in the number of cases, checks by Blueprint Weekend revealed that many Nigerians have thrown caution to the wind.

This reporter who visited markets, motor parks, shopping malls and other public areas observed that while the use of hand sanitisers was no longer a common practice, only a few Nigerians wear face masks in public. Many of those with face masks hung them on their chins.

 Specifically in Nyanya, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), various worship centres, event centres and drinking joints have also been going about their businesses without adhering to safety measures.

 A trader at Nyanya market, John Ugwu, said he was struggling to adhere to non-pharmaceutical preventive measures because of the public perception that a third wave of the pandemic was not real.

“When Covid-19 entered Nigeria last year, everybody was conscious about wearing their face masks, but now, we think it is not real. I am not used to covering my face or wearing a face mask.  It makes me uncomfortable.

“I have five face masks in my house, but I usually forget to wear one each time I leave my house for a business trip. I am still trying to make it a habit.”

 Likewise, a resident of Mararaba in Nasarawa state, Hassan Abubakar, told Blueprint Weekend that it was not important to use face masks, adding that the Delta variant would go as the previous strains went down in the country.

 Explaining the behavioural change and why many Nigerians may have returned to their old ways regarding personal protection, a psychologist, Dr. Martin Agwogie, said, “Recall that at the initial stage of the Covid-19, there was tension everywhere, people were afraid and people took the lockdown measure, to a large extent, seriously. After a time, people thought Covid-19 might not be as deadly, especially in Nigeria and Africa, as it is in other parts of the globe, due to the mortality rate.

“People thought some persons that contracted Covid-19 went into isolation and recovered from it. They thought it was not as serious as they initially thought. There is also the misconception that it is more of a disease of the rich; that only the rich were dying from Covid-19. That affected the level of risk people attached to Covid-19. What that simply means is that their perception of harm from the disease is possibly low.

“People survived the first and second waves; people have actually got to a stage where they said there was no Covid-19, so going back to taking precautionary measures was like going back to what they thought was over. Some had dropped their face masks and other preventive measures. For them, going back to it would be a challenge, especially because they don’t see it as a risk.”

Third wave

Given the disregard for non-pharmaceutical protocols by Nigerians, a professor of virology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Luke Ukonu, told Blueprint Weekend a third wave is imminent.

He said, “A third wave is a high possibility. We see the number of lab positive cases climbing and the positivity rate rising. With the reported detection of the Delta variant in Nigeria, and the near abandonment of non-pharmaceutical interventions by most Nigerians, I believe we are getting set for a third wave.

“When it comes, it is likely to be more severe than the second wave, just as the second was higher than the first wave. It is, however, hard to make any detailed projection because the elusive Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus keeps surprising us.”

 Poor vaccination

However, a virologist, Musa Yusufu, said the federal and state governments should double their efforts in expanding vaccination campaigns to provide protection for Nigerians and prevent mutations.

He also encouraged Nigerians to make themselves available for vaccination to prevent further mutations and the spread of the virus. According to him, more variants of Covid-19 could emerge in future if the gap of infections was not closed with vaccination.

“Polio, for example, has a variant called vaccine-derived poliovirus that can also cause infection. The same polio vaccine that was manufactured a long time ago is still in use; another vaccine was not manufactured to take care of that mutant. It is the same way that the Delta variant is a mutant and a common characteristic of the RNA virus is to mutate as they move from one individual to the other.

“More variants may come in future if we don’t close the gap with vaccination. Don’t let anyone deceive you; before any vaccine is released for emergency use, it serves the primary purpose of protecting. The more the people are vaccinated, the more the virus would be handicapped to mutate and the fewer the opportunities for variants to emerge,” he said.

Way out

The executive director of Unity Advocacy Forum, Mrs. Jumoke Ayoola, speaking with this reporter on the ways of checking the development, urged Nigerians to adhere to all the safety protocols prescribed by the NCDC.

She said, “I will encourage people to observe all the preventive measures because by doing so, they are not only protecting themselves against coronavirus, they are protecting themselves against other respiratory and virus infections as well as those that can cause gastroenteritis.

“The face mask will prevent the spread of other respiratory infections. Wearing the mask on the chin is a waste of time and energy because it will not serve any purpose; the real places that the mask needs to cover are the nose and the mouth.”

Also, the chairman, Expert Review Committee on Covid-19, himself a virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, said disregarding the preventive measure against contracting and spreading the virus would put many in danger.

He said, “It is unfortunate and a danger not only to those refusing to wear face masks but also to their families, friends, and loved ones. Covid-19 is still around and being transmitted on a daily basis. The fact that we are not testing efficiently and effectively does not mean it is not around. The person locked up in a room with windows shut says the sun is not shining on a sunny day but those outside in the sun know better.

“Half a loaf is better than no loaf. The partial protection of the vaccine may be the difference between getting exposed, infected, and surviving or dying. Getting vaccinated and immunised may be the difference between being alive or dying or dead. So, please get vaccinated.’’

The expert stated further that the third wave might double the number of cases recorded during the second wave.

“First, the second wave lasted as long as the first wave, about eight months. However, the first wave produced 62,830 cases and the second wave made 104, 730 people sick. For every sick person in the first wave, we had 1.6 times the number in the second wave. From what we have seen the Delta variant doing in other countries, and should the third wave come in Nigeria, it will be a miracle if we do not see a doubling of the number of cases as we saw in the second wave. See the number of cases we are now reporting in the last two to three weeks; from zero to three-digit numbers.

 “Keep persuading, while diligently and actively implementing the non-pharmaceutical interventions. We must all work with each other to encourage people to wear their masks. Establishments, public and private institutions, offices must enforce the guidelines in their spaces. We, as individuals, must persuade, encourage and insist on others complying with guidelines on NPIs.’’

 Similarly, a consultant public health physician, Dr. Hannatu Mohammed, said the face mask had become a necessity now more than ever to keep the Delta variant of the virus at bay.

Mohammed said, “The Delta variant stays more in the atmosphere compared to the previous variants we have had. The implication is that the number of people that could get infected could be more. A person infected with the previous variant could infect two or 2.5 persons at a time. But this new variant can get four to five people infected at once because it stays more in the atmosphere.

“We need more face masks now than ever before. The important thing now is how to protect oneself with a face mask. The implication of that is we should not be tired of using face masks now. We need it more because of the peculiarity of the new variant we have now.”

Agwogie, however, urged the government authorities to lead the awareness campaign against Covid-19 by showing example, through public adherence to preventive measures so that the citizens would understand the seriousness and follow suit.

He said, “I think the government also needs to increase the level of awareness and enforce the rule; it is not a case of ‘do what I say and not what I do,’ because you see people, even those in government still behaving as if there is nothing serious about the pandemic. If those who are respected in society do not adhere to the Covid-19 protocols, it throws caution to the wind.

“What I would suggest is persuasion. Let Nigerians know why they need to adhere to the protocols. There is a difference between adhering to protocols and the use of force. When you preach to their conscience, through different channels, it becomes more effective. But that is not to say some measures cannot be used to curtail excesses when there is a breach. But I believe in persuasion and communication as against the use of force.”

Additional doses

 Meanwhile, the executive-director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Faisal Shuaib, disclosed that Nigeria would be expecting 41,282,770 Covid-19 vaccine doses this year. He advised Nigerians to embrace non-pharmaceutical means of curbing the Delta variant of Coronavirus.

  Faisal, who disclosed this during a press briefing in Abuja, noted that the Ministry of Health and its agencies were working towards supporting the local production of vaccines in the country.

He said, “The country has officially ended the first phase of its strategic Covid-19 vaccination plan and is now preparing to commence the second phase in the next few weeks. We have also received communication for the delivery of the following vaccine shipments in the coming months.

“3,924,000 doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca by end of July or early August 2021 from the COVAX facility, 3,930,910 doses of Pfizer-Bio-N Tech Covid-19 vaccine in August from the COVAX facility donated by the United States Government, 3,577,860 doses of Pfizer-Bio-N Tech Covid-19 vaccine in Q3 from the COVAX facility, 29,850,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine by the end of September, that will arrive in batches from the African Union Commission.

Faisal added that the federal government had procured equipment for the preservation of the vaccines.

“We are making every effort and are confident that, with your continued support, Nigeria will be able to make more significant utilisation of the vaccines that would be supplied to the country.

“The National Primary Health Care Development Agency is putting in place all necessary logistics for storage, distribution, security, and accountability for the range of vaccines we are expecting.

 “To this end, the federal government of Nigeria has procured 60 units of U701 ultra-cold chain equipment, and as we speak, no fewer than 37 of them have been deployed to all the 36 states and FCT in preparation to receive all Covid-19 vaccines that would require ultra-cold.”