A Nigerian scientist spent the Christmas season doing genetic sequencing in his laboratory to learn more about the country’s variant of Covid-19.
Virologist Sunday Omilabu said the information he is gathering about the variant will help fight the spread of the disease in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country of 196 million people.
Nigeria has confirmed 89,163 Covid-19 cases, including 1,302 deaths, according to the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The variants discovered in the UK and South Africa are very different from the variants discovered in Nigeria,” said Omilabu, who said it was not uncommon for viruses to mutate and cause variants.
Nigeria is seeing more infections with Covid-19 but it is not yet sure if this is of the variant, said Omilambu, director of the Center for Human and Zoonotic Virology at Lagos University College of Medicine and Teaching Hospital.
“What we can say clinically is that we have more people with severe signs and symptoms,” he said, describing how one person can spread the disease to four or five family members, which is a higher rate than recorded earlier.
“It shows us that something is happening. Since there is an increase, we are recording this, but we still need to sequence one of these isolates to see if the increased transmissions are caused by the variant, ”said Omilabu.
“I think we have to calm down, there will be more variants.
“We have to monitor the virus, we have to sequence. If we sequence we will have more information about what is going on and then of course we need to continue monitoring. We need to monitor how active the virus is in the environment. So the public health experts have to work on it and then the government has to support all of this. “
While the lab work is being done to learn more about the variant, Nigerians should remain vigilant to avoid spreading the virus, he said.
“People are still going out and partying. You still go to the club without putting on face masks, ”he said. “We’re talking about social distancing, people don’t respect that. We’re talking about face masks, people don’t do that. You see them in the marketplaces, they don’t. How do you control it now? “
With Covid-19 variants emerging in Nigeria and South Africa, the World Health Organization said Africa needs to do more genetic sequencing, such as what Mr Omilabu is doing.
“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants is widespread. However, those with a higher transmission speed or potentially increased pathogenicity are very worrying. Crucial research is ongoing to fully understand the behavior of the new mutant virus and to control the response accordingly, ”said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
The new variants emerged as Covid-19 infections rise in the 47 African countries, nearing the peak the continent saw in July, she said.
In the past 28 days, 10 countries – Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda – have reported the highest number of new cases, accounting for 90% of all infections in Africa, she said.
The new virus variant in South Africa is now the dominant one and appears to be more contagious, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier this week, South Africa exceeded a million confirmed cases and is leading the continent’s recent surge in Covid-19, which is coming back “with a vengeance,” Nkengasong said.
“Variants are a hallmark of this type of RNA virus. The more we sequence this virus, the more variants we will see … We remain optimistic that the various vaccines against these variants will remain effective. “