Nigeria recorded four cases of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant B117, first reported in Britain, while still expecting vaccines against the virus, the Nigerian government said on Monday.
Three cases were found in Nigerians who had traveled out of the country and one is a resident, said Boss Mustapha, secretary to the government of the federation and chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, at a daily news conference.
Mustapha said that over the last few weeks, the PTF had been closely following the rising number of infections reported daily in Nigeria while scientists were sequencing the variants of the virus.
"When they were tested, this strain was found in them within a week of returning to Nigeria. This was reported to us through the international health regulations and it is most unlikely this strain was acquired in Nigeria," said Chikwe Ihekweazu, director-general of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), while shedding more light on the new development at the same news conference on Monday.
Ihekweazu said his agency would keep intensifying genomics surveillance and sequencing in collaboration with its partners, as shutting down international travel would not achieve much so long as the virus was still ravaging in other countries.
Meanwhile, 1,430 new COVID-19 cases were reported late Monday, bringing the total number of infections in the most populous African country to 122,996, according to the NCDC.
The new infections were reported from 18 states, including Lagos, the economic hub, and Abuja, the federal capital territory.
Three additional deaths were recorded, bringing the total to 1,507 nationwide since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in the country on Feb. 27, 2020.
Nigeria has so far tested 1,270,523 people since the onset of the pandemic, the PTF said.
"The management of cases is gradually improving with the availability of medical oxygen. The government is also fast-tracking the rehabilitation of existing plants and construction of new ones as approved by the president," Mustapha told reporters, adding there is currently a review of the guidelines on the implementation of phase three of the eased lockdown which expired on Monday.
Nigeria is expected to receive 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines early next month, with the efforts to deploy them underway, the official said.
"We wish to assure all Nigerians that the vaccines will be safe and effective when eventually it is deployed. We enjoin everyone to join in the campaign to eliminate vaccine hesitancy," he said.
Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said at the news conference on Monday the government is exploring all options to ensure the vaccination of 70 percent of the Nigerian population within two years.
"With an eye on value-for-money, we are negotiating with many parties and planning for flawless execution using recent experience from polio eradication in the face of a global scramble for vaccines," Ehanire added.
By Olatunji Saliu