Majority of Nigerians who contracted COVID-19 so far did not have relevant travel history or exposure to another individual with the virus, meaning that the origin of their infection is unknown.
This is according to the coronavirus situation report for August published by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Sunday.
Despite a continued decline in the daily figure of confirmed coronavirus infections in Nigeria, there has been a troubling uptick in mystery cases which health experts believe could upset plans of full opening of public activities across the country.
On Sunday, 304 coronavirus infections were recorded in Nigeria, the lowest number in at least two weeks. Since Friday, the nation has been recording cases below 500.
The latest figure brings the total number of infections in the country to 43, 841.
But according to the NCDC report, over 70 per cent (31, 237) of confirmed cases are from unknown sources that contact tracers could not tie back to likely community sources — such as spouses, co-workers, or neighbours.
They cannot also be traced to persons with travel history, putting a strain on efforts towards identifying specific individuals with exposure risks.
“This situation portrays the intensity of community spread of this contagion but also puts the government in a difficult position in trying to ensure balance between keeping the economy running and fighting the virus,” Tolu Fakeye, a public health physician said.
Nigeria has had to reopen its economy as authorities seek to balance health needs with the economic needs of the populace. Schools are being reopened gradually, domestic flights have resumed, while markets and religious centres are also gradually being reopened.
Health experts believe the prevalence of cases with no traceable identity should intensify the need for blanket protections such as mask-wearing and social distancing and can halt further reopening of public activities.
Only two per cent (804) of cases have travel history while 27 per cent (11, 800) had contact with them, the report said.
“The findings of this report clearly shows that there is evidence of community transmission, but the extent is still not clear”, Chinaza Ezeigwe, a public health worker, said.
The NCDC, in its Week 15 Editorial titled, “Scaling up COVID-19 testing capacity in Nigeria,” said the cases with unknown sources were evidence of the existence of community transmission.
“Currently, the need to conduct more testing is being advocated due to increased cases of community transmission,” the agency said.
But despite the uptick of community transmission, Nigeria has lagged in testing people who showed symptoms of the disease.
On April 28, the Nigerian government announced its target of testing at least two million people within the next three months.
The ambitious 90 days’ target elapsed a few days ago, but Nigeria failed to cover at least 30 per cent of the two million.
Nigeria still conducts only about 900 to 1,400 tests per day across 26 molecular laboratories in the country, a source confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES.
As of the time of reporting, Nigeria has tested about 287, 532 of its 200 million population.
Repeated calls and texts to Chikwe Ihekweazu, NCDC Executive Director, seeking to find how the agency would expand testing and intensify contact tracing of cases with unknown sources were not responded to as of press time.
The report showed that more males are infected with the virus. Of the 43, 841 total, 28,305 (65 per cent) are men while 15,536 (35 per cent) are women.
The most affected age group is between 31 to 40 (25 per cent).
Out of a total 43,841 infected persons so far, 20,308 have recovered and have been discharged after treatment in the country’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)
Five fatalities were recorded from the virus on Sunday, pushing the total number of confirmed deaths from the virus to 888.
Since the confirmation of the first case on February 27, the NCDC said it has released several advisories and statements to help Nigerians and some affected groups in particular, to respond to the pandemic.
These guidelines include:
1. An online course on Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) for COVID-19 via NCDC eLearning platform
2. Ahead of forthcoming elections in the country, NCDC issued Guidelines for Conducting Elections During the COVID-19 Outbreak in Nigeria.
3. To protect elders, and those with pre-existing medical conditions, NCDC issued an Advisory for Vulnerable Groups.
4. NCDC said it released guidelines on the re-opening of places for worship.
5. NCDC also released Strategies to Improve Surveillance for COVID-19 Guidance for States
6. Guidelines have been issued for the safe transportation of remains of persons suspected or confirmed to have died of COVID-19.