The B.1.351 variant of the coronavirus, first found in South Africa, is spreading in 23 African countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
The WHO Regional Virologist, Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, told Punch that the strain presented the same symptoms such as fever, cough, headache, and breathing difficulty, among others, regular with the original COVID-19.
Gumede-Moeletsi also listed the affected Africa countries to include Kenya, Cameroon, Cote D’ ívoire, Malawi, Mauritius, Togo, Botswana, Comoros, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Ghana, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Seychelles and Tanzania.
She said, “The symptoms for any variant or even the original coronavirus are still the same; cough, headache, fever etc. They are still the same as we know from the beginning of the pandemic.’’
“The cases have decreased in South Africa. It indicates that the country has managed to contain the virus. There is a decrease in the number of hospitalisations and severe cases. The country is doing a tremendous job in controlling the spread of this particular strain.’’
Earlier, The WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said during a virtual press conference during the week facilitated by the APO Group that new variants placed the continent at risk of a third wave.
He said, “The B.1.617 variant that was first found in India has been reported in at least one African country. The B.1.351 strain, first found in South Africa, is spreading in 23 African countries and the B1.1.7 strain, first found in the United Kingdom, has been found in 20 countries.
“With new variants circulating, low vaccination levels, population fatigue in adhering to preventive measures, and easing of restrictions, the conditions are present for a resurgence. The tragedy in India does not have to happen in Africa, but we must all be on the highest possible alert. Governments must maintain strong surveillance and detection systems, reassess and bolster their treatment capacities, step up the supply of critical medicines, including medical oxygen and ensure there are enough beds for severely ill patients.”
Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) have, however, called for caution among Nigerians and the Federal Government as the strain hit neighbouring countries.
The chairmen of the NMA in Edo and Osun states called on Nigerians and the Federal Government to be cautious regarding the variant in the neighbouring countries.
Dr Harrison Omokhua who is of the Edo State chapter advised Nigerians to continue adhering to the non-pharmaceutical protocols, noting that the risk of experiencing another wave was high.
He said, “The truth is that the risk is always there as long as we continue to relax adherence to the non-pharmaceutical measures of preventing the virus. What this means is that if someone with the South African strain enters the country, there would be a problem.
“The risk is high as long as it is spreading around the continent. That strain has been found to be more ruthless than the previous ones. We will continue to appeal to everyone because there is a tendency to relax. I can see that people have begun to relax because we do not have a high number of cases again. There is a false feeling of deja vu only to be hit hard because people have now relaxed.
“I advise the government to ensure that the enforcers of the protocol start to do more and do not relax. The laws are no longer as strict as they used to be. Even from the government posture, it appears they feel that we have overcome the worst. It is not Uhuru yet as experts have also predicted a third wave. The people also must start to adhere to the protocols again and avoid large gatherings.”
His counterpart in Osun State, Dr Razak Akindele, urged the Federal Government to be on alert to prevent the strain from entering Nigeria.
Akindele stated that the Federal Government must immediately move by reintroducing preventive measures observed when the virus was first recorded in the country.
He warned that the strain was more severe, hence the need for the Federal Government to reintroduce safety protocols, especially the one concerning movement into Nigeria from the country where the strain had been confirmed.