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Nigeria Finds 1st Omicron Case From Oct12/01 06:16


   LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Nigeria has detected its first case of the omicron 
coronavirus variant in a sample it collected in October, weeks before South 
Africa alerted the world about the variant last week, the country's national 
public health institute said Wednesday.

   It is the first West African country that has 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.

   Genomic sequencing of positive cases of COVID-19 among incoming 
international travelers has confirmed an omicron case dating back to October, 
the Nigeria Center for Disease Control said in a statement issued by its 
director-general. Nigeria has also identified two cases of the omicron variant 
among travelers who arrived from South Africa last week,

   "Retrospective sequencing of the previously confirmed cases among travelers 
to Nigeria also identified the omicron variant among the sample collected in 
October 2021," Nigeria CDC director-general Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa said.

   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.

   The Nigeria CDC urged the country's states and the general public to be on 
alert and called for improved testing amid concerns that Nigeria's low testing 
capacity might become its biggest challenge in the face of the new variant.

   Testing for the virus is low in many states and even in the nation's 
capital, Abuja. For instance, in parts of Kuje, a suburb of Abuja, Musa Ahmed, 
a public health official, told The Associated Press that no one has been tested 
for the virus for weeks.

   The detection of the omicron variant in Africa's most populous nation, with 
206 million people, coincides with Nigeria's new requirement that all federal 
government employees must be inoculated or present a negative COVID-19 test 
result done in the last 72 hours.

   With the vaccine mandate taking effect on Wednesday, 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.

   Many of the workers and security agents were not wearing face masks.

   "Governments should invest in promoting narratives around vaccine safety, 
efficacy, and the broader public health security implications of poor vaccines 
uptake," Adewunmi Emoruwa, lead strategist at Gatefield, an Abuja-based 
consultancy. "If public servants are convinced about these issues, they are 
naturally more effective advocates to their constituents."

   Across Nigeria, the news of the omicron variant -- which the World Health 
Organization has warned poses "very high" risk -- has triggered concerns and 
renewed fears over the COVID-19 pandemic.

   At the airport in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city and economic hub, 
authorities insisted that travelers must wear their face masks at the counters, 
though not much attention is paid to many others flouting health protocols 
around the airport premises and in the city.

   Nigeria -- with 214,218 confirmed infections including nearly 3,000 deaths 
-- has updated its travel advisory, ordering incoming international travelers 
to have a PCR test 48 hours before embarking on their trip to the country and 
two more tests, two days and seven days after arrival. Incoming international 
arrivals must also isolate for seven days.

   Amid global concern over the omicron variant, the Nigeria CDC 
director-general told reporters that the country remains at alert in the face 
of the emerging crisis.

   "We are working very hard to enhance ongoing surveillance, especially for 
inbound travelers, and also trying to ramp up testing (including) at the land 
borders," he said.

   A slew of nations moved to ban travels from many countries especially 
southern African nations in the aftermath of the emergence of the omicron 
variant. But the move has been widely condemned by many including South Africa 
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is currently in Nigeria on a two-day visit.

   Further west on the continent, Liberia launched surveillance along its 
borders and placed health officers assigned there on full alert although no 
cases of the omicron variant have been reported there.

   Liberia's Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah urged citizens to take 
preventive measures but not panic. She urged them to take advantage of the 
vaccination campaign.

   "You cannot go to war if you are not prepared for the war," she said. "And 
our preparation for this war against COVID-19 -- whether it is alpha, delta or 
omicron -- is to protect ourselves by getting at least a jab in your arm ... so 
we just want to raise this heightened alert."

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