The United Kingdom led the way, banning flights from most Southern African countries. This is a country that has been inept and a failure in rapid response to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to its people and became the most proportionally infected country in the world with a massive death burden. The only time it has acted fast was when the word ‘African’ emerged in the conversation.
It has been a difficult two weeks for me as I travelled to Niger Republic for a conference on “Conversations on the Sahel” and on my return was diagnosed with COVID-19. It is difficult to know where and how the infection occurred. Everyone on the flights had their face masks on, except when refreshments were served and people removed them to eat and drink. Gone are the days when direct flights from Abuja to Niamey on Arik existed. Now it’s ASky, with a difficult trajectory from Abuja-Lome-Ouagadougou-Niamey. During the conference itself, it was face mask always, except when making a speech. Lunch was served in the garden but people congregated to chat. At the hotel, we sat in the open by the pool but then we were talking and eating. The opportunities for this smart virus are endless and three people at the conference tested positive to it on their return to base. Should I have kept my earlier resolve of no travel until after COVID-19? But when will it end, if ever? Eventually, everyone’s resolve collapses.
When the diagnosis came POSITIVE, my first thought was that I had written many obituaries for friends who had died of COVID-19, so now someone has to take the responsibility for mine. It was a silly thought. I have had my double vaccination, so AstraZeneca would defeat the virus and that was what happened, or so I think. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) doctors were very diligent and came to the house every other day for my case management and had all the necessary drugs in stock. Thank God I am now on the mend, although the lethargy that follows the infection is overwhelming and writing this column has been a real challenge. The irritating cough also will not allow me rest, in spite of punishing it with steam inhalation. On the whole, the fear of the disease is the nature of its attack – strangulating its victims through oxygen deprivation and the vaccine is a real protector in that regard.
It has, above all, been a difficult two weeks for Africans, as moves by COVID-19 in the form of multiple mutations reveal a lot of the under-belly of how the West reacts when it gets the opportunity to blame Africa for the pandemic. The key finding is why should facts matter when there is an opportunity to castigate Africa and Africans. The Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) SARS-Cov-2 was discovered by diligent South African scientists and state authorities, who informed the World Health Organisation and the international community on November 24 that they had discovered a variant of concern with multiple mutations and a possibility of very fast transmission, and the world should do the necessary. Instead of praising them for their expertise and diligence, the response of the West was immediate stigmatisation.
The United Kingdom led the way, banning flights from most Southern African countries. This is a country that has been inept and a failure in rapid response to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to its people and became the most proportionally infected country in the world with a massive death burden. The only time it has acted fast was when the word ‘African’ emerged in the conversation. The obvious response the civilised world reached was ‘racism’ and a deep desire in the United Kingdom to impose apartheid on Africa, in line with the growth of populist ideology and practice under Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Currently, the Omicron variant has spread to 57 countries around the world but the stigma remains only on Africa. It is interesting that the Netherlands later discovered that they had the variant in a sample taken from November 19, which makes it older than the South African one but no European country is targeted.
The new development is that the United Kingdom, Canada and now Saudi Arabia have added Nigeria to the travel ban list, although the number circulating in their countries is higher than what obtains in Nigeria. It appears that their concern is the discovery of a number of Nigerians with documents asserting they had been vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 but when tested had no antibodies, suggesting that part of their documentation is fake. Our government must earn to identify and punish the few bad eggs that are giving us a bad name. The reality, however, is that they were already in the search for excuses to pick on us.
The big story on COVID-19 is that vaccination is a solution only if the entire world is vaccinated, but countries with resources have monopolised the vaccines, over and above what they need for their populations. When South Africans and the World Health Organisation told the world that the Omicron variant could have developed in any country and picking on Africans was simply a racist move, they were ignored. Today, it is clear that it has already spread all over and flight bans serve no purpose.
Many African countries are left with the logistic challenge of using vaccines under time pressure, due to this problem of late delivery from countries that kept them for long, although they did not even need them, as they had more than enough. As Nigeria’s Health minister said, the solution to the challenge of vaccine expiration is the local manufacturing of vaccines.
On Wednesday, the Nigerian government, through the health minister, Osagie Ehanire, announced that gifts of vaccines from the West had expired and had been withdrawn and will be destroyed by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the country’s agency in charge of drug and foods standards. According to Reuters, the expired doses were of the AstraZeneca brand delivered via COVAX, the dose-sharing facility led by the GAVI vaccine alliance and the WHO. About one million doses have gone to waste, mainly because they were delivered to the country not long before their expiry dates. Many African countries are left with the logistic challenge of using vaccines under time pressure, due to this problem of late delivery from countries that kept them for long, although they did not even need them, as they had more than enough. As Nigeria’s Health minister said, the solution to the challenge of vaccine expiration is the local manufacturing of vaccines. He added, however, that Nigeria has utilised most of the over 10 million short-shelf-life doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far supplied in good time.
Meanwhile, the indications are that this pandemic will remain with us for a long time. I conclude with the verse that I composed at the beginning of the pandemic:
Coronavirus Came and the Dying Began
Panic Set in and Remedies Were Sought
Social Distancing, Did They Say Two Metres Apart?
Yes, Decision is Total Lockdown, Stay at Home
Coronavirus Came and the Dying Began
Social Distancing Made Sense
No to Handshakes and Hugs
Staying Far Apart Made Sense
Only That for the Poor, they Live Ten in a Room
To Move: They are packed in Buses like sardines
Three Dozen People for One Toilet
Social Distancing Makes Sense; But Not for the Poor
But the Rich Too Suffer
China the Emerging Superpower was Bereaved and Battered
Then the European Powers – Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom
The United States then took over the Macabre Race to the Cemetery
Testing, Tracking and Tracing as Solution
It’s Easy, See South Korea, Singapore and Hongkong
It’s Hard, See United Kingdom and United States
Strength is Not Governance
6th April 2020
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