COVID-19: NCDC says travel restrictions did not have any public health benefits


By Abujah Racheal

The Nigeria Centre for Disease and Prevention Control (NCDC), has said that recent experiences in the country with the arrival of the COVID-19 omicron variants showed that travel restrictions did not have any public health benefits but were disruptive for persons and businesses.

Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, Director-General, NCDC, said this on his official Twitter handle while addressing Nigerians who raised concern over the rising COVID-19 cases in China, the UK, U.S.A and other countries.

He said that COVID-19 has and continues to follow a different course (epidemiology) in Nigeria and most of African nations.

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“Other omicron progeny that was associated with increases in cases, admissions and deaths elsewhere did not cause the same in Nigeria as confirmed by our genomics surveillance.

“Our population is significantly protected from a combination of natural infection and vaccination,” he explained.

Adetifa said that the COVID-19 Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) met on Dec. 31, 2022, noting that going forward, they would continue to review the ongoing COVID-19 situation over the coming week.

“At the next review and if deemed necessary, a range of actions, not limited to enhanced surveillance of travellers at airports, may be implemented,” he said.

The NCDC boss said that the agency follows global COVID-19 epidemiology, including genomics data, as part of the ongoing pandemic response.

Adetifa said that the NCDC COVID-19 EOC continues to function at level two alertness – including weekly risk assessments to inform the need for action.

“Our COVID-19 EOC is tracking COVID-19 trends in China, the US, UK, South Africa, India and other destinations with high volume traffic to and from Nigeria,” he said.

The NCDC boss said that the COVID-19 resurgence in China was not surprising, given their recent transition from a zero COVID-19 strategy.

He said that this was against a backdrop of a population that neither has high levels of natural immunity nor high levels of coverage with vaccines with the greatest impact against severe disease, hospitalisation, and death.

“Cases, admissions and deaths in England and the US have increased significantly.

Government agency data show 28.8 per cent, 36.3 per cent and 1.6 per cent increases in cases, admissions and deaths as of Dec. 22, 2022, compared to the previous period.

“The Centre for Disease Control reports 57.0 per cent, 23.2 per cent and 66.0 per cent increases in cases, admissions and deaths as of Dec. 22, 2022, compared to Nov. 20, 2022.

“The National Department of Health in South Africa data shows fewer admissions in Dec 2023 vs Nov 2022 (as of 21/12/22),” he explained.

Adetifa said that before the current uptick in cases seen in China, the US, the UK and elsewhere, genomic surveillance continued to show the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant and its lineage continued to predominate in infections worldwide.

“As of Dec. 3, 2022, BQ.1.1, BQ.1, BA.5 and BF.7 were responsible for 85.1 per cent of cases in the US and XBB.1.5 made up 1.3 per cent. For England, BA.5 (17.1%), BA.2.75 (16.6%) and BQ.1 (59.6%) were dominant (up to 27/12/22). In South Africa, BA.5 and sub-lineages dominated in Sept-Nov 2022

“With BQ.1 increasing from Nov to Dec. 2022 and XBB detected at very low levels from Oct. 2023. On Dec 31, the CDC projections were that XBB.1.5 will make up 40.5 per cent of COVID-19 cases. In England, XBB.1.5 went up quickly from Nov 2022 to about 1.9 per cent of cases as of Dec. 2022,” he explained.

He said that the new omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 is a source of worry as it may spread faster than older omicron sublineages.

“For example, XBB or BQ cause increases in hospitalisation when it becomes dominant. BF.7 (BA. is considered responsible for the surge in China but does not appear to be increasing elsewhere. BF.7 is also thought to be highly transmissible and sufficiently immune evading.

“In addition, the ‘poor immune status’ of the Chinese population now exposed to high levels of transmission of a rapidly mutating virus may favour the rapid emergence of new variants of concern,” he explained.

According to him, In Nigeria, the NCDC continues with genomic surveillance. The omicron variant was first detected in Dec. 2021 and has since become the dominant strain.

He said that BQ.1/BQ.1.1 and related sublineages were first seen in Nigeria in July 2022 and BQ.1 became dominant in Aug 2022.

“BQ.1.1 took over in Sept 2022 and persisted since then. None of these was associated with any increases in case numbers, admissions or deaths. We have not detected BF.7 or XBB.1.5 in the country yet (sequencing updates for Dec. 2022 are in progress),” he said.

He said that the Nigerian COVID-19 response continues to be executed via four pillars – continued surveillance, genomics surveillance, capacity for surge testing and vaccination.

He said that regardless of SARS-CoV-2 variants in different parts of the world, there continues to be an excess of cases of severe disease, admissions and deaths among the under or unvaccinated and those with established risk factors – old age, cardiovascular and endocrine co-morbidity, immune suppressive states (disease and/or treatments), and so on.

“We advise Nigerians to make use of every opportunity the Federal Government has provided via the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to get vaccinated, that is receive your primary vaccination which can be two or a single vaccine dose. If you have received two vaccine doses already, go get your booster.

“If you have received one booster dose already, please go get your second booster dose. If you belong to any of the high-risk categories, including old age, kindly ensure you adhere to recommended public health safety measures – mask use, hand hygiene and avoiding crowded spaces,” he advised.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that China is experiencing a nationwide outbreak of the coronavirus after abruptly easing restrictions that were in place for much of the pandemic.

Other countries, including the US, UK, India, Japan and several European nations have announced tougher measures on travellers from China amid concerns over a lack of data on infections in China and fears of the possibility that new variants may emerge.

Meanwhile, some Nigerians alongside Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, called on the Federal Government to check passengers from China for their COVID-19 status.

While some Public Health experts have said that the COVID-19 pandemic showed Nigerians that future health systems for the country must be preventative.

They said the country needs investment in early-warning systems, disease prevention, and primary healthcare, as well as community education. (NAN)

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