By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
The figures are scary and the outlook dismal; unless governments at all levels take more steps to curb the rising numbers of infections on a daily basis, COVID-19 , the grim reaper, may turn out to be Nigeria’s number one enemy in decades.
A lot of factors have been adduced for the rising and deadlier second wave ranging from lax enforcement of health authorities protocols and rules on keeping safe, corruption of airport officials- that allow some passengers arriving the country from overseas to evade scrutiny and test for fees- to non-challance on the part of citizens to keep safe.
The result is scary as the second wave bites harder.
More people are dying from the disease and health officials have not relented in advising stricter adherence to safety measures as the only way to slow further spread.
On Friday alone, the country recorded one of its highest coronavirus-related deaths, with 12 people dying from the virus on Friday.
This adds up to a scary figure – an increase of about 50 per cent from the six fatalities recorded the previous day – has taken the death toll to 1342 in total, as at Friday alone.
In the past three weeks the country has recorded130 fatalities as a result of COVID-19 complications in Nigeria. Among the victims are top academics, one of which is Professor Femi Odekunle, world renowned criminologist, and Africa’s first professor of Criminology.
Although the government has heaped the blame of rising fatalities on later referral of COVID-19 patients to treatment centres, not a few exonerated the government from blame for lax enforcement.
Nigerians of all hue are beginning to get worried as the spike in new infections is not relenting.
The Friday figure of 1,544 reported from 21 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) made health professionals and authorities to get worried.
The figure, one of the highest so far since the virus began spreading in the country, indicated a slight decrease from the 1,565 reported on Thursday.
Last Wednesday, the country recorded yet another highest daily tally ever with 1,664 cases.
In December, the federal government had warned that a significant increase in coronavirus infections in Nigeria appeared imminent this January due to continued violation of safety protocols during the Christmas period.
Active cases in the country rose sharply from about 3,000 about a month ago to over 17,000 due to a rise in new infections.
Of the over 97,000 cases so far, 78,552 patients have been discharged from hospitals after treatment.
With the country in the second wave of the pandemic, federal authorities have ordered the reopening of all isolation and treatment centres in the country.
The Nigerian government has also reintroduced new restrictions to check the spread of the virus, including closure of bars and nightclubs and limiting the number of people allowed in a public gathering.
The Minister of State for Health, Olorunnimbe Mamora, warned Nigerians against complacency in containing the COVID-19 pandemic as the much awaited vaccines may not arrive the country as soon as expected.
So far, Nigeria has conducted over a million COVID-19 tests
Professor Ibidapo Obe, former vice chancellor, University of Lagos had penultimate week died of COVID. This sad development followed the death of Odekunle, eminent scholar.
Just as academic community is mourning these two eminent members, the grim reaper showed his hands again.
Early last week, the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Wednesday morning lost another prominent professor, Duro Ajeyalemi, to coronavirus disease.
The late Mr Ajeyalemi, who retired at the age of 70 from the university in November, in 2020, was a former dean of the institution’s faculty of education and the pioneer registrar of the Joint Universities Preliminary Examination Board (JUPEB).
One death too many, too biting to escape notice such that the university’s deputy vice-chancellor in charge of development services, Folasade Ogunsola, said the institution’s management was “again shocked to receive the news of the death of another great scholar.”
“It is true Professor Ajeyalemi is dead. We are still in shock. Nigerians should know that COVID-19 is real and they should please use masks appropriately.”
Mr Ajeyalemi, a professor of education, is the third prominent indigene of Ijesha land in Osun East Senatorial District that had died of the deadly disease in the recent time. The late professors Femi Odekunle and OyeIbidapo-Obe had earlier died recently.
Meanwhile, Mrs Ogunsola, a professor of medical microbiology, urged Nigerians to desist from partying, saying the violation of COVID-19 rules through social gathering, has increased the cases nationwide.
“Nigerians should know that social parties can wait. We must wear our masks and avoid crowded spaces. We must also sanitise properly. COVID-19 is real and we must be properly guided,” Mrs Ogunsola added
The Spectre in Africa
According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 2020 had seen COVID-19 infect over 2.7 million Africans and kill over 65,000. A surge of cases in the last quarter of the year, combined with the emergence of more contagious mutations, pose new challenges for Africa in 2021.
An average of 28 of the continent’s 54 countries have reported a higher number of new COVID-19 cases each week compared to the previous week since the beginning of October. This trend has resulted in an average of 22,000 reported new cases per day in December, eclipsing the peak rate of 18,000 during the first wave in July.
Nearly half of the total cases recorded on the continent have been reported since October.
Most recorded cases continue to be seen in South Africa and Morocco, which have among the best capacity for testing in Africa. Nonetheless, record levels of reported cases are observable continent-wide.
Countries like Tunisia, Botswana, Uganda, Angola, Eritrea, and Burkina Faso, for example, have experienced steep increases in exposure during the second wave, though their cumulative number of reported cases remain relatively low.
Mutations in the COVID-19 virus detected in South Africa and the United Kingdom (and potentially Nigeria) in December that make it significantly more transmissible raise prospects that the second wave could become even more dispersed.
In South Africa, the mutated strain of the virus is dominant and driving the second wave. While the virulence of these new variants remains to be seen, it bears recalling that the second wave of the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago was more widespread and lethal in Africa (and other parts of the world) than the first.
The surge may be particularly dangerous for public health systems in countries like Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo, all of which have recorded their highest number of weekly cases during the second wave and whose public health systems were starting with fewer resources before the pandemic.
Even countries with stronger health systems and those that are not yet experiencing surges during the second wave are still at risk of being overburdened as the virus spreads into rural or active conflict areas. In South Africa, the rising number of hospitalizations has required care to be rationed to those patients highest on triage lists.
One of the striking characteristics of the first wave of the pandemic in Africa has been apparently lower mortality and morbidity than other parts of the world, perhaps because of the youthful demographics in much of the continent.
Multiple studies suggest, however, that the asymptomatic spread of the disease has been significantly more widespread than these numbers might indicate.
The emergence of new strains of the disease may then pose new dangers in countries where the combination of a more limited death toll but significant economic losses may make containment difficult. Other studies and reports indicate that significant numbers of COVID-19 fatalities may have been missed during the first wave in countries like South Africa, Sudan, and Nigeria.
Geographically, countries in North Africa and Southern Africa stand out in their reported exposure to this second wave (as well as testing).
These nations also fit the typology of Gateway countries (i.e. those with significant international contacts) or those with large urban hubs.
Many of the countries reporting a surge of cases in the second wave have high test positivity rates:
This means the actual number of cases is likely much higher than is being captured by current levels of testing. This also suggests that countries with less extensive public health systems may be experiencing more cases than have been recorded.
The Africa CDC is seeking more tests in addition to vaccines to more effectively control the virus. To date, ten African countries have conducted over 75 percent of the continent’s total recorded tests.
While the second wave is spreading at a record pace across much of the continent, 93 percent of the recorded cases in the second wave are concentrated in 15 countries.
For the continent as a whole, countries with relatively older populations, greater international exposure, and stronger public health systems to conduct testing have consistently reported higher numbers of cases. These 3 factors by themselves correlate with 55 percent of the second wave of reported cases.
Aside from these factors, the prevalence of cases has varied greatly across the continent.