New Variants of COVID-19: A change in orientation, key to flattening all dynamic turns

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As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps on troubling the world, the apparent intrigues of the virus continue to face off with new dimensional wings of concerns. While the entire world is affected by the virus, there has been some peculiar modes of its intensity and dynamic outbreak across regions. Every Country seems to have some level of peculiar experiences which may be slight different from that of others. Even within a Country, different parts of one same Country are known to be bearing different records of experiences. Nigeria on her part has continued to have her own fair share of peculiar  experiences from the virus.

As efforts are continually galvanised to inquire deep into the obscurity of the virus, newer discoveries are being unraveled gradually, though with tardy speed.  The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), has disclosed that a new variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Nigeria and 15 other countries. The new strain, B.1.2.5, which is different from the highly infectious B.1.1.7, has however, not been described as a variant of concern yet. The NCDC Director-General (NCDC) Chikwe Iheakweazu who disclosed this at the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Monday, said that researchers and scientists were still working hard to understand if the variant had any effect on the virus’ transmissibility, immunity as well as diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics.

He was quoted: “As we shared, a total of 54 cases with the B.1.1.7 variant strain, which is a variant of concern first described in the UK, have been detected in Nigeria. There is a new variant, the B.1.2.5, which we have begun to detect in Nigeria and 15 other countries.  It is important to note that this variant has not been described as a variant of concern yet. Researchers and scientists are still working hard to understand if this variant has any effect on the virus transmissibility, immunity, as well as diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics. This is because the variant has some similar mutations with the B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1 variants first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, respectively. While sequencing is important for us to understand the situation, handwashing, physical distancing and the proper use of face masks are very important to prevent the spread of the virus. Last week, we sent another 100 samples to our colleagues at the ACEGID lab in Ede, and we did 30 sequences in our lab at NCDC. We will continue to scale the weekly number of samples sequenced as part of our surveillance.”

The NCDC had also disclosed that the September and October 2020 household prevalence surveys carried out in Lagos, Enugu, Nasarawa and Gombe States revealed the level of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies among the population.

According to the NCDC Director-General: “The findings from the survey show that the estimated prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the population is 23 per cent in Lagos and Enugu States, 19 per cent in Nasarawa State and 9 per cent in Gombe State. We are still working on a better understanding of SARS-CoV-2 which is the virus that causes COVID-19 and the duration of immunity.”

It is paramount for the NCDC to scale up its sequencing capacity to have a better understanding of the dynamics of the variants of the virus in the country. It is imperative that more scientific studies be carried out to further develop local knowledge of the manifestations of the virus in Nigeria as a major architecture for galvanizing resources towards the containment of the virus. It is therefore paramount that more intensive studies be injected into the course of understanding the dynamics of the virus in the light of its local expression in Nigeria.

While the NCDC should work in line with the demands of the prevailing situations as a public health emergency, the need for the Government to further strengthen popular advocacy to strongly enlighten the Nigerian populace is essential. The unguarded conduct of many at the local communities with attitudinal cohabiting posture that opens a free arm for the spread of the virus, is a fundamental problem that requires reorientation to address. While the Federal Government has issued directives and promulgated orders of punitive measures against defaulters, it is glaring that the populace at the local level have not in any appreciable manner, adjusted by reason of the order. It is therefore appealing to argue that rather than hampering on the instrument of force, more strategic measures of popular enlightenment campaign should be embraced and deployed as opening mechanisms to enlighten the populace for a change in their orientation. The popular perception of the virus as a disease of the rich or a scam the government is deploying as a means to exploit the masses and/or siphon public funds requires to be changed. It therefore behooves the Government to muster more efforts on measures to change the wrong perception. Such change in orientation will naturally command civil obedience as many will come to the terms of understanding the importance of reasoning with the fact that the virus can only be defeated by all when each and every citizen takes the responsibility of safety protocols by adhering to the established directives.

While new variations of the virus are being discovered, it is indisputable that the safety protocols such as high level of hygiene, social distancing, and wearing of face mask among others, remain unchanged. It is therefore essential to consider the importance of the necessity of the reconciliation of ideas by the Government and the populace which gives expression to what will inform the character and coordination of mutual government-populace efforts to stem down the wave of the virus and flatten its curve. While the NCDC should continue to intensify scientific studies with brave laboratory experiments, the need for the populace to play their part in the social posture of cohabitation is paramount. All citizens must therefore take cognizance of self-responsibility to achieve the desired objective towards dismantling the hold of the virus at the community level.