Declining Covid-19 cases: Nigeria out of the woods?

Recently, Nigeria recorded a decline in the number of Covid-19 cases daily as announced by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). PAUL OKAH, in this report, asks if the coast is now clear for Nigerians to soft-pedal on safety protocols.

When the Covid-19 virus berthed in Nigeria in February last year, national and international health authorities fell over themselves to make recommendations on the best safety measures to adopt to avoid contracting the virus. Some of the popular measures recommended by health authorities were regular wearing of face masks, hand-sanitising, and social distancing.

But the daily announcement by the NCDC of new cases was steadily on the increase, with Nigerians wondering if the safety measures were not effective or simply being disregarded.

In fact, on January 16, Nigeria’s confirmed Covid-19 cases rose to 107,345, after reporting 1,867 new cases, the highest single-day rise in the country since the onset of the pandemic. However, towards the end of February and since this month began, the hundreds of confirmed new cases started declining, as evident in the numbers reeled out by the NCDC on a daily basis.

On March 21, the NCDC announced a ‘paltry’ 86 as the number of new Covid-19 cases, the lowest since the infection started gathering momentum for months now, raising questions of whether Nigeria is out of the woods and whether we should get out our dancing shoes, go clubbing and pay little attention to Covid-19 hullabaloo.

The vaccine

Nigeria received 3.94 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines in early March and vaccination had since commenced, starting with health care workers who often face the risk of infections being the first responders to patients, with 300,000 additional doses received from MTN on Sunday.

The federal government said it aimed to vaccinate approximately 109 million people against the Covid-19 virus over the next two years, beginning with the eligible population of 18 years and above, including pregnant women.

The executive director, NPHCDA, Faisal Shuaib, who also identified the phases, said plans were in plans to vaccinate as many Nigerians as possible.

“The vaccine roll-out will be in four phases; starting with health workers, frontline workers, Covid-19 rapid response team, laboratory network, policemen, petrol station workers and strategic leaders.

“Phase 2 – Older adults aged 50 years and above. Those with co-morbidities aged 18 – 49 years of age. “Phase 3 – Those in states/LGAs with high disease burden and who missed phases 1 and 2. Phase 4 – Other eligible population as vaccines become available,” he said.

However, speaking with this reporter, a social commentator, Roselyn Adekunle, said that many Nigerians are opting to be vaccinated as against going for a test, but that Nigeria is not out of the woods yet.

She said: “The true situation of things is that the coming of Covid-19 vaccine in Nigeria is discouraging Nigerians from going for tests, with the claim that they would rather get vaccinated against the vaccine. However, the danger is that many asymptomatic patients may be spreading the virus. Nigerians should not be deceived by the seeming decline in the number of confirmed cases.

“From observations, the cases are usually low during the weekends, but increase during working days. For instance, on Sunday, March 21, NCDC reported only 86 cases, going by the tests on that day. However, the health agency subsequently reported 131 new cases on Monday, March 22, making a total number of 161,868 confirmed cases, 148,125 discharged and 2030 deaths, with Lagos and FCT still leading the chart.

“Nevertheless, we are not out of the woods yet, so Nigerians should continue taking precautionary measures. In fact, many countries are presently experiencing the third wave of Covid-19, so we should be extra careful as a country. Nigeria might have received 300,000 additional doses of Covid-19 vaccines, but we shouldn’t let our guards down.”

Expert’s take

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend on the possible reasons for the declining number of confirmed cases, a public health expert and the #Talkhealth9ja host, Dr. Laz Ude Eze, said that the coming of Covid-19 vaccine to Nigeria may not be ruled out. According to him, there is a strong suspicion that many Nigerians may not present themselves for testing, unlike before, but that the PTF and NCDC can provide plausible reasons.

He said, “The Presidential Task Force and the NCDC team would be in a better position to provide plausible causes of the declining number of Covid-19 cases in Nigeria. From the professional perspective, a number of factors may be responsible. It could be that the number of tests being carried out has declined significantly.

“The Covid-19 vaccination is a plausible cause. Given that many persons have not been observing the prevention protocols, there may be some level of herd immunity, which may have reduced the severity of infections. It may be a combination of some or all of the above factors I explained. The appropriate authorities will have an evidence-based explanation for the decline.”

Minister’s concerns

Speaking Monday at the National briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, disclosed that over three million vulnerable Nigerians were still at risk of contracting the virus and needed to be vaccinated.

She said: “The Ministry is now working to support vulnerable persons under our purview that require vaccination in line with the National Primary Health Care Development Agency’s plan to reach this group in the second phase.

“Data mined from the National Social Register and various agencies and parastatal under the ministry has now shown that over three million persons need the vaccination. The vulnerable group include the elderly, Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWDs), Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the vulnerable poor.

“We will ensure that they are properly sensitised of the risks and side effects and receive psychosocial support from our social workers, issues and co-morbidities will be considered before they are administered these vaccines.”

FG’s reaction

Speaking on Monday at the joint national briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Mr. Abdullazzi Abdullahi, acknowledged the reduction in the daily number of confirmed cases, even with sustained testing rate.

He noted that although Nigeria has tested 1,727,467 samples, with a test positivity rate of 9.4 per cent, “Nigerians must guard against infections.”

“In the last week, we have recorded a total of 1,080 cases. This is less than what was recorded daily during the second wave, even with sustained testing. While this is good, we shall not on account of this rest on our oars for it is still too early to do so. We shall continue to sustain our testing rate to ensure that we identify, isolate and treat positive cases in the country. This is necessary to avoid a third wave which some countries are presently experiencing.

“In addition to this, we are sustaining distribution of available commodities, PPEs and consumables to ensure availability at all times for end users at treatment centres. Evidence has shown improvement in management of cases as many gaps identified during the supervisory visits are being addressed.

“Some centres are operating in new and purpose-built isolation wards, while there’s an ongoing remodelling of some centres, improved workflow, better IPC practice and availability of better equipment such as Oxygen Concentrators, ventilators among others,” he said.

However, he raised the alarm over reported racketeering of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines in some of the designated vaccination centres, saying that the racketeering is not necessary as vaccination has been scheduled in phases such that frontline health workers and those at higher risk of the Covid-19 infection are to be vaccinated first, after registration at the portal.

“We have received reports of racketeering in some of the designated vaccination centres. This is not necessary. Vaccination has been scheduled in phases such that frontline health workers and those at higher risk of the infection are vaccinated first after registration at the portal.

“Everyone will be vaccinated free and everyone will eventually be vaccinated. There is no need to pay to be vaccinated. Government met with the AstraZeneca group at the ministry and the meeting provided an opportunity for one-on-one clarification on the vaccines.

“The outcome of the meeting was a reassurance of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine against Covid-19. We have not yet recorded unusual side effects among those who have received the vaccine which include me. NAFDAC is monitoring the process as part of a global tracking of adverse effects of the vaccine.

“Anyone who has received the vaccine and is experiencing any adverse reaction should please report to NAFDAC using the Med Safety App on your phone or report at the centre where you received the vaccination.”

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