Experts disagree over fresh restriction threat as Nigeria records highest daily infections since outbreak

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The Nigerian government has said it may be forced to impose fresh restriction measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

The nation on Wednesday recorded the highest daily figure of 4,035 cases since the outbreak in the country in February, 2020.

But health experts including the chairperson of Infection Control African Network and former acting vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) Akoka, Folasade Ogunsola; the provost of UNILAG’s college of medicine, Wale Oke; Osun State Commissioner for Health, Rafiu Isamotu, and a United Kingdom-based health practitioner, Oluwole Alabi, advised against fresh lockdown option, saying the demerits far outweigh the merits.

New COVID-19 update

The latest update by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has indicated that the fourth wave of the pandemic is raging fiercely across the country with a fresh figure of 4,035 declared just 24 hours after more than 2,000 cases were declared.

The new update also indicated that Nigeria recorded two additional fatalities, increasing the death toll to 2,991 while the infection toll now stands at 231,413.

The statistics show that Lagos State, the country’s epicentre of the infection, contributed more to the surge in the country, recording 3,393 of the new 4,035 infections.

According to the data, 2,536 of the confirmed cases reported in Lagos State, are backlogs of cases for December 13 (37), 14 (365), 15 (197), 16 (577), 18 (742) & 19 (618).

As of Tuesday, the number of active cases have increased to 12,547 cases while the number of discharged cases now stands at 211,853, as Enugu State also reported a backlog of six discharges for December 21, 2021.

Breakdown

The breakdown of the NCDC data revealed that three South-southern states followed Lagos State on the log with Rivers and Edo States reporting 260 and 62 cases respectively while Akwa Ibom reported a backlog of 42 cases for December 20 and 21.

Kaduna State followed on the log with 39 cases while Ekiti and Oyo States reported 38 cases each, with Delta and Kano States reporting 31 cases each.

While Ogun State reported 30 cases, Abia recorded 26, and Bauchi and Ondo States recorded 15 and 14 cases respectively.

Also Enugu and Kwara States reported nine and seven cases respectively.

The NCDC noted that the trio of Gombe, Osun and Sokoto States reported that no cases were recorded in the states on Wednesday.

NCDC raises alarm

Meanwhile, while appearing as a guest on “Kaakaki,” a morning programme on the Africa Independent Television (AIT) on Thursday, the director-general of the NCDC, Ifedayo Adetifa, said in spite of the efforts by the centre and other concerned bodies in Nigeria to sensitise Nigerians on the virus, many still doubt its existence.

He said the disbelief is quite a phenomenon that is making the war against the spread of the pandemic a difficult fight for the government.

He said: “It is quite a difficult phenomenon, because for some people, there is no evidence you can provide to convince them. We report infection records daily as part of the efforts of being transparent.

“Even the cases that we report are just underestimated because we simply are unable to test as many people as can be done in a well resourced location. It is everywhere, we all know, there are many people who have tested positive and isolated at home and the evidence we have is our surveillance system which now shows exponential rise in the number of cases.”

He said the disease that has claimed about 3,000 people cannot be said to be phantom, saying only the affected families can tell of the consequences of the vacuum created by the departed.

Curfew threat

The director-general, who expressed frustration with poor compliance of many Nigerians to the non-pharmaceutical actions such as the use of face masks, observing social distancing and handwashing protocols, said the country may be forced to impose curfew again.

Mr Adetifa said: “I am sad to report that already, it looks like in addition to the wave of confirmed cases, we may now be seeing an increase in the number of patients that have been admitted to isolation centres because people are not adhering to safety measures as advised and are not taking vaccination.

“By that we are allowing transmission to continue in an unmitigated fashion which means that there is a risk that our health system might get overwhelmed, and if it continues, then the government may be forced to put in place, more stringent measures, that includes restrictions of gathering and and even curfews.”

He said the vaccines continue to prevent people from becoming severely sick should they become infected with the virus, adding that they also prevent those infected from dying “and these are outcomes that people should keep their hands on.”

“The vaccine also prevents mild or severe symptoms should you get infected, they are likely to be only infections for a short period compared to people who have not been vaccinated. The summary is that vaccines work, please make use of every opportunity that has been provided, get vaccinated,” he added.

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Experts speak

Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, Mrs Ogunsola, a professor of clinical microbiology and member of the Lagos State Government Think-tank on COVID-19, said another lockdown should not be considered.

The don, however, suggested restriction on mass gatherings, describing them as super spreaders.

She said: “Another round of lockdown is highly unlikely because the infection scare is not translating to hospitalisations. There may, however, be a restriction on mass gatherings because those are super spreader events.”

Similarly, the CMUL provost, Mr Oke, said the impacts of the lockdowns experienced in 2020 on the global economy was huge and that no nation can afford to try such a measure again.

He, however, complained bitterly that Nigerians have abandoned the precautionary measures and that those who wear masks are seen as “outcasts.”

“The unfortunate thing is that mass gatherings have resumed without protocols in place. When you attend parties these days you realise that the percentage of those who observe protocols is quite minute and they are even seen as outcasts. This is what the government needs to work on,” Mr Oke said.

The professor of medicine also advised that big social events such as entertainment concerts should be barred, even as he suggested that like every virus, the mutations happening to COVID-19 will get to a level when the virus will have no capacity to keep patients on admission or in isolation.

“My strong belief is that the mutations will continue until it becomes as powerless as the common flu. But before we reach that stage we need to observe the protocols and ensure that people are vaccinated,” he added.

On his part, the UK-based medical expert, Mr Alabi, said there is no longer a basis for any form of restriction but urged people to be vaccinated and “even get their booster vaccines.”

He said: “I had been an advocate of lockdowns when it was supported by scientific evidence, But facts have continued to show that the Omicron variant is infective but not virulent, and so locking down people is like shutting down the system for the common catarrh and cold.

“In Europe and England football stadia are filled to the brim and matches are only postponed when a certain number of players are unavailable based on the rules governing the game. Why did the countries that imposed restrictions on Nigeria such as the UK and Canada had a change of mind? They did because they knew there was no scientific evidence to back the decision but merely political reasons. And that was unfortunate, anyway.”

Increased risk communications best solution- Commissioner

The Osun State health commissioner, Mr Olasunkanmi, a paediatrician, said as a government, the responsibility is to heighten awareness on the risks of “losing guards by Nigerians.”

He said the gatherings can continue to take place but that every necessary precautionary measure must be observed by the participants.

“We understand how difficult it is to ensure compliance among our people but as a government, we need to continue with the persuasive methods and work more on our partnership with the media, societies and groups to spread the message on the danger non-compliance to protocols could cause.”

Vaccination campaign

The experts and the NCDC DG advised Nigerians to be vaccinated against the pandemic, insisting that it is still the surest antidote available globally.

They said the weather in December and the festive seasons are two drivers of infectious diseases and, therefore, urged Nigerians to take caution and go for vaccination.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Nigeria confirms two deaths, 210 cases Saturday

Speaking on the expired vaccine and in response to the question that people are of the opinion that they may have been inoculated with the wrong vaccine, Mr Adetifa said such cannot be true.

He said the vaccination mechanism in place does not allow expired vaccines to be administered at any of the accredited centres.

He said: “We do not allow the use of expired vaccines and, in fact, we have in place a very robust mechanism to allow us through our supply management and the associated logistics to retrieve vaccines from the system when they are near expiration. So advancing such a reason for not getting vaccinated is really unfounded.

“As far as COVID-19 vaccines are concerned, the country received donations of millions of doses of vaccine from other countries, some of those vaccines come with relatively short shelf lives. That millions of vaccines that expired were destroyed should not be a sign of worry, but reassurance that the system we have in place actually works, the system that only potent vaccines are being delivered to citizens of our country.”

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