By Adebayo Obajemu (with agency reports)
For those who had earlier heaved a sigh of relief that the Coronavirus pandemic has run its course, they may have to reconsider their stance, as the resurgence of the pandemic in deadlier variant has been recorded across Sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria.
As of July 13, Nigeria has recorded 168,713 COVID-19 cases, of which the Delta variant, described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the most transmissible, is one.
Out of these infections, 2,124 fatalities have so far been registered in the country.
COVID-19, Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Faisal Shuaib, said at a briefing last Tuesday.
Mr Shuaib noted that the Astrazeneca vaccines already used in Nigeria have shown to be 88 per cent effective against the Delta variant.
“The Delta variant has so far shown that it has very minimal vaccine escape properties against the AstraZeneca vaccine. So we are still in a good place,” he said.
He said with the detection of the Delta Variant of COVID-19 in the country, it is important to continue to observe non-pharmaceutical measures such as wearing of facemask, social distancing and hand hygiene in order to curb the transmission of the disease.
The Delta variant has already spread to 104 countries
The Nigerian government has disclosed that it is expecting 41,282,770 doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of September 2021.
He said; “We have received communication for the delivery of the following vaccine shipments in the coming months. 3,924,000 doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca/Moderna by end of July or early August 2021 from the COVAX facility.
“3,930,910 doses of Pfizer-Bio-N Tech/Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in August from the COVAX facility donated by the United States Government, 3,577,860 doses of Pfizer-Bio-N Tech/Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Q3 from the COVAX facility
“29,850,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson (Jassen) COVID-19 vaccine by the end of September will arrive in batches from the African Union Commission.”
He stated that the government is putting in place all necessary logistics for storage, distribution, security, and accountability for the range of vaccines expected.
“To this end, the federal government has procured 60 units of U701 ultra cold chain equipment, and as we speak, about 37 of them have been deployed to all the 36 States and FCT in preparation to receive all COVID-19 vaccines that would require an ultra-cold temperature of below 40 to 85 degrees,” he added.
Nigeria had commenced COVID-19 vaccination on March 5, 2021, having received approximately four million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX, a UN-backed effort that promises access to vaccines for up to 20 per cent of participating countries’ population
Mr Shuaib said this has led to the successful vaccination of 3,938,945 eligible persons across 36 states and FCT, representing 98 per cent utilisation of the vaccines received from COVAX.
The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is given in double doses. A person is required to come back for a second shot, some weeks after taking the first jab.
He said 2,534,205 people have been vaccinated for the first dose and 1,404,205 have received their second dose of the vaccine.
Mr Shuaib said the country will make more significant utilisation of the COVID-19 vaccines that would be supplied to the country in coming weeks.
He appeals to everyone eligible to take the COVID-19 vaccines to make themselves available for vaccination on due dates.
In the face of third wave of the pandemic, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has expressed concern on some issues that, it says, may significantly affect the pace of Nigeria’s economic recovery if measures are not taken.
This is coming on the heels of fears of the spread of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The IMF made the statement in a recently published report titled ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: We Need to Act Now’.
As stated in the report, the level of increase in infections in the third wave of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is faster than anywhere else in the world.
Analysts at Investa told this newspaper that the report was not surprising given that vaccine rollout in SSA is estimated to be less than 5 percent of the total population according to data from the World Bank.
It is widely believed that less than one adult in every 100 is fully vaccinated in SSA compared to an average of over 30 in every 100 in more advanced economies.
Nigeria has the largest population in SSA (c.208m) and its vaccination story is not in any way better than other SSA countries whose vaccination data were analyzed by the IMF.
Going by data from Thomas Reuters global COVID-19 vaccination tracking portal as of June 29, 2021 shows that Nigeria has administered 3.4 million doses of vaccine.
” Given that each person requires two doses of the vaccine to be fully immunised against the pandemic, it is safe to estimate that only 1.7m Nigerians have received the two doses required for full vaccination as of the end of June 2021″, declared professor Oluranti Folarin, a medical researcher.
The number stands for a meagre 0.8% of Nigeria’s estimated current population of 208m. This can be a source of worry given the quick spread of the new Delta variant (now in 96 countries) which was first discovered in India earlier in May 2021.
Even though Nigeria’s total confirmed cases during the first and second wave of the pandemic in 2020 settled below 140,000, yet, the minimum estimated economic loss arising from the disruption stood at N3 trillion, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracting by 1.9% in 2020.
Although the federal government has already announced some strict measures that would see passengers from India, Turkey, Brazil and South Africa either barred from entering the country (non-Nigerians) or subjected to a compulsory 14-day quarantine (Nigerians), yet, analysts are of the view that these measures may not be sufficient to prevent the spread of the Delta variant into Nigeria, given the porous borders and reported cases of compromise from some Nigerian officials at the airports.
Already not less than 24 cases of the Delta variant have been detected at the University of Lagos, which has led the authorities of the institution to close down temporarily.
The World Bank excluded Nigeria from the list of 51 Low Income Countries (LIC) it would be assisting with a fresh $4.4bn for the purchase and deployment of vaccines in the coming weeks, and the FG’s balance sheet remains weak to support state-funded mass vaccination.
Despite the IMF making a case for other multilateral organisations and Advanced Economies (AEs) to support SSA countries in vaccinating about 30% of their population (through support with funds or giving out vaccine from their stockpile) in 2021, many analysts suspect that Nigeria may not benefit significantly from this arrangement given that the new Delta variant has peaked in South Africa (83%), Zambia (92%), Tunisia (98%) and Namibia (100%).
Analysts have estimated that adopting strict measures such as banning flights from red zones and limiting social activities may cause Nigeria’s economic recovery in H2:2021 to drag by about 0.5%.
Ambrose Omokordion, Chief Research Officer of Investa said : “The cost of allowing a third wave of the pandemic may take the country back into a recession in the coming quarters if taken for granted.”
Recall that some days after the Lagos State government announced the possible third wave of COVID-19 in Lagos, the Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu warned that Nigeria was at high risk of a surge in COVID cases.
He hinted that the pandemic was still active in the country, urging Nigerians to be aware of the risk and take responsibility to protect their lives, loved ones, and the economy.
He added: “This risk is even higher with the Delta variant of the virus which is more transmissible.”
“We have a window of opportunity to prevent a surge in cases, but this requires strict public adherence to public health and social measures.
“Please wear a face mask when you are in public settings, maintain physical distancing and wash your hands regularly. We also appeal to businesses, schools, religious homes and other settings to ensure that these measures are obeyed at all times.
Ihekweazu stated that the NCDC has been working with the private laboratories approved for COVID-19 travel tests, to carry out genomic sequencing of COVID-19 positive cases among travellers, in addition to the routine genomic sequencing at the NCDC National Reference Laboratory and with the African Centre for Genomics of Infectious Diseases at Redeemers University, Ede.
He however added that the responsibility to prevent a surge in cases was not with the government alone, but requires adherence to public health and social measures by all members of the public.
Last Wednesday, rights watchdog, Amnesty International said more than 20 countries in Africa are reporting a surge of Covid-19 cases, amid a third wave of infections and new variants of the coronavirus, according to data collated from government records this month.
Although the continent’s recovery rate remains strong – 4.6 million of the 5.2 million cases – it emerged this week that the number of new infections could be higher. Already, authorities across Africa have started re-imposing restrictions earlier lifted, indicating the severity of infections.
In Kenya, authorities imposed restrictions on a number of counties in the Lake region after they reported an abrupt rise in cases in mid-June.
The imposition came just a month after a no-entry ban was lifted for the capital, Nairobi, where cases had risen earlier.
The new infections have seen the country maintain an infection rate of about 10 percent, with the total number of confirmed infections exceeding 178,000 by Thursday, among them 122,346 recoveries.
In neighbouring Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni on June 19 shut down schools, closed non-food markets and restricted movement between districts after reporting the worst death rate in the country since Covid-19 emerged last year in March.
The restrictions are supposed to remain for at least seven weeks, according to the timelines announced by the Ugandan leader.
Uganda had managed to keep cases lower for most of the past year, but an Indian variant responsible for new cases saw the country report more than 20,000 cases in three weeks, and about 60 deaths.
More than 68,700 people have been infected so far, with 584 of them dying from the virus, official figures show.
A number of countries across Southern Africa, including Namibia, South Africa and Zambia, are currently in the midst of what could be the deadliest wave yet”, it said, adding the lack of vaccines in a region with high levels of poverty and inequality means many people feel they are just waiting to die.
In South Africa, the worst affected country in the Sub-Sahara, authorities reported 17, 493 new infections on Wednesday, surpassing numbers reported the previous day by 6,400, most of them in the metropolis in Gauteng Province.
The country had reported such a massive figure in January, but it was still lower – 13,880.
These figures were announced more than a week after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a third wave in the country, banning alcohol sale, reintroducing a curfew and restricting public gatherings.
South Africa had aimed to vaccinate at least 40 million adults by end of the year but the inoculation programme faced hitches after the initial rollout of the AstraZeneca failed to deal with a local variant detected in March, as the continent in general struggled to procure enough doses.
In the DR Congo, President Felix Tshisekedi imposed new restrictions after a sudden rise in Covid-19 cases.
He banned public gatherings and ordered compulsory wearing of masks. DRC has faced hesitancy towards the vaccine and the country recently donated its doses to Kenya to ensure their use before expiry.
The country has reported more than 36,000 cases, including 866 deaths and 27,000 recoveries. After the numbers went down late last year, the government reopened its borders and resumed most programmes.
But the public dropped their guard as seen in low mask-wearing and sanitisation.
Last Friday, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi admitted his country had also entered a third wave, criticising the public for not following health guidelines. Maputo has also reported cases of the new Delta Variant in Tete Province.
President Nyusi spoke as the country marked 46 years of independence, saying he expected more cases due to the infectious nature of the new variant.
“We are on the verge of a third wave that will be much more serious,” the President said.
“There is a need to delay and mitigate the third wave. Effective Saturday, Mozambique will re-impose a 10pm to 4am curfew, public beaches will be shut and restaurants allowed to operate only until 8pm, while public theatres will only admit a maximum of 40 people at a time. Churches and other worship centres will be directed to hold services outdoors and limit the number of attendees.”
As at Thursday, Mozambique had recorded 73,652 Covid-19 cases, including 70,352 recoveries and 863 deaths.
In Sierra Leone, the death of a woman, reportedly a day after she took the Covid-19 jab, worsened vaccine hesitancy.
Officials promised to investigate the matter but the country confirmed detecting the Delta variant just after announcing the emergence of a third wave.
Sierra Leone’s National Covid-19 Emergency Response Center (NaCOVERC) said the variant was detected after the testing of samples from two female patients.
“This calls for extra vigilance,” NaCOVRC spokesman Solomon Jamiru said in a statement which reiterated calls for the public to adhere to anti-virus measures and get vaccinated.
Zimbabwe’s Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who doubles as Health and Child Care minister, said this week that the rising cases made it necessary for the southern African country to step up its Covid-19 vaccination programme.
The reopening of schools, which was set for June 28, has been delayed by two weeks after a surge in cases.
The country launched a mass vaccination programme in February after receiving vaccine donations from China, India and Russia, but some centres immediately ran out of stock. This week, officials said another batch of 2.5 million doses was due to arrive from Beijing.
As of June 23, the country had administered a total of 1,146,378 vaccine doses, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The country has reported a surge in new cases, reaching 44,306 by Thursday, including 1,709 deaths.
Angola has reported some success in vaccination, having give at least one million doses by Thursday, but it has also reported 38,091 cases, including 881 deaths, signaling that the danger still lurks.
Neighbouring Botswana became one of the few countries in Africa to use the Sinovac vaccine from China.
It received 200,000 doses of the vaccine but penetration is still low.
The country has reported 1,095 deaths out of the 67,492 cases it has recorded.
Namibia, another country using the Chinese vaccine known as Sinopharm as well as AstraZeneca says it has vaccinated about 121,000 people, and expects more doses in a week’s time.
However, officials said the country’s death toll of 1,305 by Thursday signals a continuous lack of adherence to public health guidelines.