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Africa COVID-19 cases top 3 million, first wave peak surpassed

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As COVID-19 cumulative cases in Africa top 3 million and daily case numbers exceed the first wave peak, the continent is now confronted with emerging variants of the virus. Revamped public health measures are ever more critical to avert a runaway surge in infections that could stretch health facilities to the breaking point.

An average of 25, 223 cases were reported each day between 28 December 2020 and 10 January 2021 in Africa, which is nearly 39% higher than the July 2020 two-week peak of 18 104 daily average cases. Yet numbers may rise further in the coming days in the wake of travelling, gathering and festivities over Christmas and New Year holidays.

Overall cases in the region have risen steadily since mid-September 2020, with a steeper rise from late November. In addition, a new variant of the virus called 501Y.V2 is circulating widely in South Africa, accounting for most of the new infections during the second wave.

Mutations of the virus are unsurprising as the more the pandemic spreads the higher the likelihood of changes. However, preliminary analysis finds the 501Y.V2 variation to be more transmissible. Genomic sequencing has found the variant present in Botswana, the Gambia and Zambia.

Deeper investigations are underway to fully understand the epidemiological implications, but at present there are no indications the new variant increases the severity of the disease.

“Even if the new variant is not more virulent, a virus that can spread more easily will put further strain on hospitals and health workers who are in many cases already overstretched,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. “This is a stark reminder that the virus is relentless, that it still presents a manifest threat, and that our war is far from won.”

Nigeria is also carrying out more investigations on a variant identified in samples collected in August and October. While for now there are no reports of the COVID-19 variant circulating in the United Kingdom cropping up in the African region, further investigation is needed.

With WHO support, African countries are reinforcing genome sequencing efforts, which are key to finding and understanding new variants as they emerge and to help blunt their impact.

WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention network of genome sequencing laboratories in Africa is supporting governments with training and data analysis on genome sequencing, bioinformatics and technical expertise. WHO has also developed guidance on containing new variants and is assisting countries to manage and safely transport samples for sequencing and analysis.

While much progress is being made in building genome sequencing capacity, the more than 5000 sequences which have been conducted so far in the region account for just 2% of global sequencing data.

“We call on all countries to increase testing and sequencing of the virus to swiftly spot, track and tackle new COVID-19 variants as soon as they appear. To defeat an agile, adaptive and relentless enemy, we must know and understand its every move, and double down on what we know works best against all variants of the virus,” said Dr Moeti.

“We must not become complacent. We must persist with the proven public health measures that helped stop the spread of the virus during the first wave – that’s physical distancing, constant handwashing and wearing masks in public spaces.”

Dr Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Prof Francisca Mutapi, Professor in Global Health Infection and Immunity, University of Edinburgh, UK, and Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

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53 Health Workers In Edo Infected With COVID-19

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Edo State Government on Thursday disclosed that no fewer than 53 healthcare workers have been infected with the COVID-19 virus since the federal government declared a second wave of the pandemic in December.

The State COVID-19 Incident Manager, Dr. Andrew Obi, who disclosed this during a meeting of the State Taskforce on Covid-19, chaired by Governor Godwin Obaseki, also revealed that the state had recorded eight new cases and one death in the last 24 hours and added that the government will soon roll out more measures to halt the virus’ spread.

“We have, in the last 24 hours, recorded 8 new coronavirus cases and 1 new death.

“240 samples were collected from the various screening and testing centres across the state.

“As of today, Thursday, January 14, 2021, we have 238 active cases of the virus in the state.

“Since the second wave of the deadly disease, Edo State has recorded 447 confirmed cases out of which 53 are health workers. The State has also recorded 202 recoveries and 12 deaths from the disease”, Obi submitted.

He cautioned residents to observe all precautionary measures to guard against the spread of the infectious disease, including compulsory and proper use of face masks, regular handwashing with soap under running water and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, observe physical distancing measures, and limit social events.

The Incident Manager urged residents with any COVID-19 symptoms to contact the Edo Emergency Operation Centre on the toll-free number 08003625000 for assistance or their nearest health facility.

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Nigerian researchers call for tobacco tax increase to reduce fatality rate

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Some researchers have said that 23,838 deaths and 602,325 DALYs from smoking attributable diseases would be averted in 10 years if the price of tobacco cigarettes was raised by 75 percent as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

They gave their separate submissions on Wednesday during a Report Dissemination Workshop on Illicit Tobacco Trade in Nigeria held at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan.

The workshop was organised by the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA).

Dr Adedeji Adeniran, a Senior Research Fellow at CSEA, called on the government to think deeply around tobacco taxation and other tobacco control policies towards reducing its burden as well as havoc

Adeniran, who presented the report of a research on ‘Health Burden and Economic Costs of Tobacco Smoking in Nigeria said the country expended more on tobacco attributable diseases than it earned from it.

“In Nigeria on a per annum basis, we spend, in terms of cost basis, more than 500 billion naira on tobacco attributable diseases.

“And if we look at what we are benefitting, it is not in anyway going to approach that.

“This exercise we are doing today in Ibadan, we are trying to talk directly to the public and we are also trying to talk to the government about what the costs are.

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“And in this case, we want government to think more deeply around tobacco taxation and other tobacco control policies,” he said.

Corroborating him,  Mr. Iraoya Augustine, a Research Associate from CSEA, said that illicit trade in terms of tobacco trade was rampant in Nigeria, saying the most effective mechanism to address it is to increase taxes.

According to him, “Illicit trade is rampant in Nigeria especially in terms of tobacco trade. Presently, Nigeria is using a tax rate which is far below the recommended rate of 75 percent.

“And we have discovered that one of the most effective mechanism of addressing illicit trade according to the World Health Organisation framework is to increase taxes”.

Augustine said that revelations from their research revealed that death rate, cancer and rate of contracting disease would be reduced if tax rate was increased by 25 percent.

“let’s talk about increasing it to 50 percent or 75 percent, you will discover that the issues, the economic burden and the health burden of illicit tobacco trade and smoking in Nigeria will be greatly reduced.”

Also commenting, Dr Adeniyi Olabumuyi from University of Ibadan, said there was need for improvement on the nation’s data gathering and recording system.

“I think the economic impact in terms of what the economy has to pay is been underestimated.

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“Government should tax those products so that they can save some part of that tax. That will now be involved in having to manage health-related issues that comes from indulging in such,” he submitted.

He said that tobacco and alcohol ought to carry luxury tax like it was in the developed countries.

Participants at the workshop supported the need for all stakeholders including government to take action towards reduction of smoking attributable diseases.

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‘Figures, data not pointing to second wave of Covid-19 in Oyo’ – Makinde

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As the number of confirmed cases continue to rise, the Oyo state gaffer, Mr. Seyi Makinde on Wednesday insisted that facts, figures and data available in the state on the current state of the spread of Coronavirus does not indicate a new wave but a continuation of the first outbreak of the pandemic.

Governor Makinde, who noted that the curve since the outbreak of the pandemic was never flattened, also disclosed that arrangement is in top gear to explore other means of getting more vaccines for the people, stressing that the state has already opened discussions with certain manufacturers on how it can get as many as possible for the people.

It will be recalled that Oyo state recorded more than 400 confirmed cases in two weeks, according to the daily figure from the  Nigeria Centre For Diseases Control (NCDC).

Speaking further, the governor, while addressing newsmen on the state of the virus in the state said the planned 1,800 vaccines to be supplied to the state through the federal government is grossly inadequate for the people whose population stands between 7-10 million.

Governor Makinde, who stated that though,  the data revealed that “Covid-19 is still very much with us”, urged the residents of the state to follow the safety protocols.

In his words, “With recent happenings and talks of the Second wave of Covid-19, I count it necessary that I address you.

“Let me start by talking about this issue of supposed Second Wave. I have always said all our responses to Covid-19 in Oyo state will be guided by data, science and logic.

“So, as far as Oyo state is concerned, the data we have is not pointing to a second wave as the curve was never flattened, to start with.

“For example, between when we started testing people in March 2020 and December 2020, we conducted 20,000 tests out of which about 3,000 were positive of Covid-19.

“By the NCDC guidelines, we tested mostly sick people who have direct interaction with those who have the virus. The NCDC have revised those guidelines and made testing open to accommodate more people, including those who may not even be showing any symptoms.

“So, from December 2020 till date, we have conducted a further 14,000 test. And I have had about 696 positive cases. So, it is clear that we did not have flattening of the curve, rather, we have more people becoming more complacent and acting more as if the pandemic was over.

“But the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) has continued its work of monitoring and enlightenment. The data says Covid-19 is still very much with us. Science is telling us that we can slow down the spread by taking precaution. The logical thing to do is to follow what science says.

“We know how difficult 2020 was for a lot of us. Logically, we should not do things that will make the situation worst. This is not the time to let down our guards. If anything, we should not take any of the precautions lightly.

“In the last months, we have unfortunately had eight deaths. So, even though many people have mild to moderate symptoms, it is severe for a few. And since we do not know who would be severe on, we need to keep our guards on.

“On our part, we are doing everything within our power to provide more resources for the EOC to continue to manage the spread of this disease.

“We are facilitating greater collaborations between the laboratories, the University College Hospital, Ibadan and our Infectious Disease Centre, Olodo, Ibadan. We are also carrying out trainings for private clinics and hospitals so they can follow the right protocols.

“And for those who may need oxygen, we are signing an MoU with a private facility to use their facilities if the need be. They are providing oxygen at UCH and already have facilities in the state, so we are just asking them to factor Oyo state into their production schedule.

“On the issue of vaccines, the Federal Government, from what we read have allocated 1,800 vaccines for Oyo state and for the country, I understand that about a 100,000 vaccines are being procured.

“But first, in Oyo state, we don’t have the facility to store it at -70 degree centigrade and again, this number is grossly inadequate if you want to vaccinate over 100,000 people out of a population of almost 200million, it is not going to make any dent.

“For Oyo state with a population of about 7 to 10million, 1,800 vaccines will not go anywhere. So, we are exploring other means of getting this vaccine to our people. I have been advised that the oestrogenic vaccine is more suitable for Oyo state due to storage instructions.

“So, we are opening discussions with manufacturers on how we can get as many as possible for our people. So, for now, the protocol remains the same. Professor Alonge and his team will continue to manage the Covid-19 situation for us, but, what I will say to each and every one of us is that we have to own our action.

“Wash your hand with soap and water, use an alcohol-based sanitiser, wear a mask and keep proper social distancing. And if you remember when we just started dealing with Covid-19, we brought out some advisory on things that can boost the immune system and those advisory are very useful at this moment”, the governor urged.

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