Omicron variant: A stitch in time saves nine

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By Asoro Abubakri Olatunji

Covid-19 seems not have had enough of humanity. Just when the world is battling to put the bad days behind it, news emerged from South Africa of a new variant called Omicron. Don’t all these names look very strange? When the news first broke, I thought it was referring to the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. I just couldn’t, in my imagination, expect another variant after humanity has battled with several waves of Covid-19. Some countries were still counting their losses owing to the forth wave when Omicron had its unwelcoming rise to stardom. Scientists say the strain is a new heavily mutated coronavirus variant also known as B.11.529 and is now designated as a variant of concern by WHO. The earliest samples were detected on 11 November, 2021 in Botswana. Omicron has more than 30 mutations on its spike protein (face), that’s more than double of what is carried by Delta variant. This, obviously, raises serious concerns if prior infections still provide some immunity.

No doubt Covid-19 has left different memories: the global economy that is yet to revive, loss of jobs, lives among others will be what the novel virus will be remembered for. What this new strain of coronavirus will etch in the sands of time is still unknown, hence the urgent measures taken by some developed countries to ban travel from climes where the cases have been reported.

I feel so sorry as South African authorities continue to cry of being unfairly treated – citing the travel ban — despite their openness about the situation. Well, truly, the world owes South Africa a lot. The reason isn’t far-fetched.  At least unlike China, the South African authorities put the world on alert for a looming danger to humanity. China, on other hand, was desperately only interested in wealth and its economical growth and rather chose to play politics with human life. The destruction triggered by the self-serving actions of China will remain a talking point in history.

Once beaten, twice shy, they say. Europe will not forget in the catastrophe brought to it by Covid-19 and while it’s still grabbling to survive, a travel ban to avoid another variant would just be in order.

Some African countries unlike India will remain grateful for the saving grace of unequal casualties lost to the battle unlike Europe. However, of chief concern is the unequal distribution of vaccines across the continent. Records show that Nigeria, for example, has only been able to vaccinate about 5% of its over 200 million population. Out of about 95% left unvaccinated, a larger percentage do not totally believe in the vaccine. Nigeria had its fair share of the pandemic crisis with many of the country’s bright stars falling at the mercy of the bullet of Covid-19. Of blessed memory is the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari; former Governor of Oyo State; Mr Abiola Ajimobi, including Senators, and so on. The losses of businesses cannot be quantified and the livelihood of some families are completely lost.

Many believed the damages may have been a lot more catastrophic if the government had done the needful at the right time. While the countries across the globe were closing their borders, Nigeria became an haven for the travellers fleeing their countries for the fear of the unknown. Interestingly, for once, Nigeria became a mecca – a centre of tourist attraction and such was the case of the Italian man who found himself in the country. Throughout the period, the authorities assured that they were taking precautions such as isolating people who traveled to the country for a period of time, an exercise which is largely characterized by non compliance. To make matters worse, a number of the airport officials who come in contact with these travellers do not also have the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). The country did not decide to ban travel until people started dying. Much later, when the country decided to opt for a national lockdown to combat the spread of the virus, bribery and corruption rendered the policy almost a total failure. Even when the number of reported cases and fatalities have continued to drop, many believed that the testing capacity may have hindered and reduced the number of reported cases. Whether Covid-19 bid farewell to the country or not remains subject to empirical evidence.

While Europe is relying on the sincerity of the Southern African countries to take necessary measures and correct its mistake of the past by hurriedly slamming travel ban, unfortunately our country is still trying to dribble between denial of reported cases and accepting the reality. As if the lives of Nigerians do not matter, not much is being said about a travel ban. Nigeria has always remain the savior and dumping ground of the world when it matters, and it’s not certain that it will not open its hand again to welcome absconding cases of Omicron from affected countries thereby subjecting Nigerians to danger.

I woke up to the breaking news that Canada has given Nigerian the same fate of the Southern African countries (travel ban). What we have refused to do, Canada is doing to us.

It does not seem that the country is ready for another lockdown. Many have fallen below the poverty line already, the inflation in the land is worrisome. Those who still have their job intact are probably not only the bread winner of their family anymore, they are bread winner of a community. Women have been more affected, more domestic violence cases were reported during the lock down and many have had to surrender to prostitution to feed their family. Teenage pregnancy came on the increase, talkless of our children who wasted days staying at home, many of our girls abruptly ended their education.

Whatever reasons that government may be thinking a travel ban is not the way to go, it may be more dangerous and prevention they say is better than cure.

Government must immediately act and impose a travel ban on all countries with reported Omicron cases. Our borders must be tighten up and travellers must be subjected to compulsory isolation. They must also ensure that all travelers heading to the country show evidence of their vaccination status. A stitch in time saves nine.

Asoro is a Youth Leader, endTB Advocate, SDGs Change Agent and Lawyer. He writes from Lagos.

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