Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, on Wednesday confirmed its first cases of the new Covid-19 variant, saying it had been found among three passengers who had travelled to South Africa.
West African neighbour Ghana also said it had recorded the new Omicron variant, tracing cases to Nigeria and South Africa.
Cases of Omicron have been detected in numerous countries since the strain was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in South Africa last week, prompting border closures and travel restrictions.
“Genomic surveillance has now identified and confirmed Nigeria’s first cases of the B.1.1.529 SARS-CoV-2 lineage, now known as the Omicron variant,” said the head of Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control, Ifedayo Adetifa.
Contact tracing and “follow up to ensure isolation… have commenced,” Adetifa said.
“Omicron is widespread globally… Therefore, it is a matter of when, not if, we will identify more cases,” he said.
Ghana’s director-general of health services, Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, said its cases had been detected at Accra’s international airport, mainly coming from South Africa and Nigeria.
“The good thing is that in the community test done so far, we have not seen any Omicron within the community of Ghana,” he said at the launch of a vaccine campaign.
“But the danger is that if someone has the Omicron, and it is incubating, it will not be found at the airport.”
Ghana another country in West Africa has also announced on Wednesday that its scientists have detected cases of the omicron variant in passengers who arrived in the country ten days ago.
Speaking at a launch event for “COVID-19 vaccination month,” Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, the Director-General for Ghana’s Health Service, said the cases had come mainly from Nigeria and South Africa.
They were picked up through testing of passengers arriving at Ghana’s Kokota International airport.
Reports from virologist William Ampofo confirmed that weekly samples of 200 passengers arriving at the airport detected that 28% of those arriving from Nigeria and South Africa had the variant.
World Health Organization representative, Francis Chisaka Kasolo who was in attendance at the launch event confirmed the importance of getting people vaccinated.
“The only way to slow down this virus from mutating is by having as many people as possible vaccinated and by following public health measures,” he said.
In response Ghana’s Health Minister announced plans to take mobile vaccination units to various areas including churches and mosques, and confirmed that vaccinations would be available to all people over the age of 15.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, public servants queued to receive their vaccine after the government made it mandatory to be jabbed or present a negative COVID-19 test result done in the last 72 hours to enter public buildings for work.
There were chaotic scenes at several offices in the nation’s capital as civil servants without a vaccination card or a negative PCR test were turned away by security agents.
The measure, which took effect on Wednesday, is part of a national campaign to increase the number of people vaccinated amid concerns around the new omicron variant.
Civil servants speaking to the Associated Press told of their concerns about the variant.
Dung Pam, a 34-year-old worker, said that he was afraid because scientists did not yet know how dangerous the variant was.
“Nobody knows how devastating this will make the situation,” he said.
Nigeria has detected its first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in travelers that arrived from South Africa in the past week, the country’s national public health institute said Wednesday, correcting its earlier statement that it found the variant in samples taken in October.
The Nigeria Center for Disease Control said in a second statement that it was the delta variant – not omicron as it had earlier stated – that was detected in the samples from October.
It said the omicron variant was first detected in three travelers who arrived in the country in the past week.
Nigeria is the first West African country to have recorded the omicron variant since scientists in southern Africa detected and reported it and adds to a list of nearly 20 countries where the variant has been recorded, triggering travel bans across the world.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and if it can thwart the vaccine.
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