Still smarting from the ruptures of COVID-19 that took humanity by storm in 2020, the world is panicking yet again, with the surge of the virus in China. The country had a month ago reversed its zero-COVID-19 policy restrictions. In the wake of this U-turn, hospitals in major Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong have been filled to capacity with COVID-19 patients. Experts say that about 250 million people were reportedly infected in the first three weeks of December 2022.
A Henan province health data, which records that 88.5 million people, out of a population of 99.4 million, contracted the virus as of 6 January is reinforced by Peking University’s study that claims 900 million Chinese were infected as of 11 January. The lobby of hospitals in cities are over-crowded with patients, several of whom lay on the floor, waiting for admission. While hospitals are struggling to cope, most schools and businesses have shut down. The situation is so gruelling that doctors and nurses infected with the virus are being compelled to work, despite their frail conditions. About 5,000 deaths and one million infections are reportedly recorded daily in China, says Airfinity Ltd, a United Kingdom-based analytic company.
The details are so staggering that China has censored the daily publication of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The country’s crematoriums are overwhelmed. As its COVID-19 situation skyrockets, China has, ironically, removed all restrictions for foreign travellers; a policy action shy of a Greek gift. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and many countries are concerned about Beijing’s usual opacity in public health disclosures. WHO’s director of emergencies, Mike Ryan, has emphasised that, “We still do not have complete data.” The organisation has just made a global appeal for the use of face masks, irrespective of the epidemiological situation.
Not willing to be roiled by COVID-19, as was the case in 2020, many countries have either imposed restrictions or outright bans on travellers from China. Among them is Morocco, which has banned all flights from China. Italy, Spain, United States, UK, South Africa, Ghana, India, France, Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Malaysia, Israel, Taiwan and South Korea and Qatar now subject all travellers from China to tests. In a series of tests, Italy discovered that 50% of passengers on two flights from China to Milan had COVID-19.
The dreaded Omicron sub-variants – XBB and XBB 1.5 – described as highly contagious, evade the immune system, and have surfaced in many Western nations, leading to increased hospital admissions and shortage of basic medicines. As of 31 December 2022, the US reported COVID-19 cases stood at 40%, from its previous 1%, according to its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is worrying that Nigeria is missing from the list of countries pre-emptively responding to the latest Chinese COVID-19 conundrum. Nigeria stands the risk of being easily exposed with its importers and businessmen flooding China and with the large Chinese presence here. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says it is monitoring the trends in countries with a high volume of traffic to, and from, Nigeria, assuring the public that the Omicron sub-variants have not yet been detected in the country.
This tentativeness is objectionable because of the havoc it could cause the country. Besides, it is at variance with the timely advisory of the Academy of Medicine Specialties of Nigeria, which warned that the country cannot afford the spill over from the current increase in COVID-19 cases from China. A statement by its President, Professor Oladapo Ashiru, urged Nigeria to “immediately tighten her borders with strict restrictions on flights coming from China through Qatar, Ethiopia, South Africa and other airlines.”
Nigeria should not wait until it is overwhelmed. Our healthcare system is in dire-straits, compounded by the mass exodus of doctors and nurses to Europe, the Americas and Asia. A virus that killed 3,155 Nigerians and infected 266,450 others, as of January 2023, should be taken as an existential threat. Globally, about 6,692,002 deaths and more than 661 million infections have been recorded within the period under review.
As in many parts of the world, COVID-19 data are not true reflections of the realities on ground due to many unreported cases. Nigeria is notorious for not keeping records of deaths and their causes, except those that occurred in hospitals. The world has witnessed at least three waves of COVID-19. While some countries carried out aggressive testing to know the depths of infection and transmission, Nigeria struggled to set up a few molecular biological laboratories just for testing. Many citizens still live in denial of the existence of the virus and are hesitant in taking COVID-19 jabs.
This situation, perhaps, explains why Nigeria’s infection and death tallies are the lowest in the world, among nations that fall within the 200 million population range. For instance, when Brazil’s earlier COVID-19 death figures were 682,549, Nigeria had about 3,000 deaths. The status quo remains. The explanation of Dr Muktar Mohammed of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, that the recent relaxation of restrictions “was because of so much pressure on us,” should invite public attention. The Committee’s actions should not be dictated by social or political “pressure”. As of 11 December, 2022, a total of 102,292,641 vaccine doses had been administered in Nigeria, according to the WHO Dashboard on COVID-19 vaccination. It means that 2022 ended with the country failing for two successive years, to achieve the WHO 70% vaccination threshold, needed to attain herd immunity in a given population.
If extraneous factors, rather than objective conditions, corralled the TPSC to relax restrictions, it suggests that its knowledge and handling of the past three COVID-19 waves are suspect. The notion that exits from previous COVID-19 waves were not clinically or scientifically based says a lot. It underscores the point that the challenges of the country in containing the pathogen are dire and gargantuan.
With China bristling with fury and threatening reciprocal action against countries that have imposed restrictions on travellers from its domain, Nigeria as a big debtor to the Asian giant might not be able to muster sufficient courage, like other nations, to halt the spread of the virus from China. PREMIUM TIMES believes that Nigeria should have the courage to protect the interest of its people.
Consequently, Nigeria should subject all flight passengers from China and others countries experiencing the fourth wave of infections of the virus to tests. It is clear that no country has recovered from the economic meltdown induced by the virus in 2020. Resurgence of the pandemic will unfold much untold hardship. It is in the public interest, therefore, that regular hand washing and sanitising, the use of face masks in public places, and covering of the nose while sneezing, amongst other COVID-19 health protocols, should be maintained.
Citizens also have a role to play in this. The best defence against the virus remains taking the recommended doses of vaccines. Nigerians should be on the lookout for COVID-19 symptoms like the flu, fever, headache, coughs, sore throat, persistent sneezing, and loss of the sense of smell and appetite as indicators of exposure and infection. Thereafter, urgent medical attention will be crucial in order to forestall the susceptibility of many to COVID-19’s rising and gory statistics.
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