The World Health Organisation (WHO) has alerted countries that increased social gathering during the yuletide period might lead to increased omicron Covid-19 cases that could overwhelm health systems and cause more deaths.
Speaking at a media briefing in Geneva, the WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus lamented that 18 months after the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was still in the grip of the deadly virus.
Owing to this, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has called on residents of the state to be cautious and take all necessary precaution to avoid the spread of the virus as well as any mishap relating to fire and security misfortune in the state during the festive period.
This is just as in Nigeria, the House of Representatives yesterday passed a controversial bill which seeks to repeal the Quarantine Act and enact the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, make provisions relating to quarantine and make regulations for preventing the spread of dangerous infectious diseases in the country.
Ghebreyesus expressed sadness that more than 3.3 million people had lost their lives to COVID-19 this year, more deaths than from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined in 2020.
“And still, COVID-19 continues to claim around 50 000 lives every week. That’s not to mention the unreported deaths, and the millions of excess deaths caused by disruptions to essential health services,” he said.
The WHO chief said Africa was facing a steep wave of infections, driven largely by the Omicron variant.
He cautioned that increased social mixing over the holiday period in many countries could lead to increased cases, overwhelmed health systems and more deaths.
Ghebreyesus said a month ago, Africa was reporting its lowest number of cases in 18 months, adding that last week the country reported the fourth-highest number of cases in a single week so far.
“There is now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant.
“And it is more likely that people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 could be infected or re-infected,” he said.
Apparently expressing his frustration about the COVID-19, Ghebreyesus said: “All of us are sick of this pandemic. All of us want to spend time with friends and family. All of us want to get back to normal.”
He said the fastest way to achieve relief from the pandemic was for all leaders and individuals to take difficult decisions that to protect their citizens.
According to him, this would mean cancelling or delaying events if necessary.
“If we are to end the pandemic in the coming year, we must end inequity, by ensuring 70 per cent of the population of every country is vaccinated by the middle of next year,” he said.
WHO had last week issued Emergency Use Listing for a ninth vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India under license from Novavax.
“This new vaccine is part of the COVAX portfolio, and we hope that it will play an important role in achieving our global vaccination targets,” he added.
Ghebreyesus further spoke of the debilitating impact of the COVID-19 which had weakened ability to attend to other health challenges.
He said the pandemic had caused setbacks in the efforts to defeat the world’s leading infectious diseases.
According to him, there were an estimated 14 million more malaria cases and 47 thousand more malaria deaths in 2020 compared to 2019.
He said a new data released this year, showed that 23 million children missed out on routine vaccines in 2020, the largest number in over a decade.
The WHO boss added that the situation had increased risks from preventable diseases such as measles and polio. He further recalled that the world body launched a global road map to defeat meningitis by 2030.
On the outlook for 2022, the WHO chief expressed hope that the year would see an end to the pandemic.
He said it would be a year that all countries would invest in preventing a future disaster on a large scale, and in accelerating efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Sanwo-Olu Cautions Lagosians
Sanwo-Olu called on Lagosians to be on alert against another wave of COVID-19 by adhering strictly to all safety protocols during the Christmas period.
Speaking at the grand finale of the ‘Year 2021 Community Day Celebration,’ held at Police College, Ikeja yesterday, Sanwo-Olu also advised residents in the various communities across the state to be responsive by providing intelligence to security agents.
He urged them to promptly report anything they see to security agents at the community level.
He said: “As Community Development Council (CDC) leaders, please take the message back home that because of the harsh weather during the harmattan season, fire is always a very easy occurrence.
“So, people need to live safely. Stay safe and make sure you don’t have combustible items around your shops, houses, and ensure precautions on electric gadgets to avert fire incidents.
“Security they say is local. Security is important at the grassroots level. You have been working with us, continue to work with us. You see something, you say something. All the neighborhood watchers are in your communities; let them know if you see strange movements.
“If you notice things that are not meant to be in your communities, pass on the message to them and you can be rest assured that the security agents will come around to keep you safe and secured. As we are going into the yuletide season, please let’s be very vigilant and make sure that we are our brothers’ keeper.”
The governor also added that, “We are getting out of the COVID-19 but we cannot be completely relaxed. In all of our engagements, let’s continue to keep those simple safety protocols.”
According to a statement, Sanwo-Olu, while speaking on his administration’s commitment to community development, said his government as a people-oriented government had executed grassroots improvement programme across the state.
He said the government was committed to promoting coordinated efforts for a peaceful, harmonious and serene atmosphere for growth and development in communities.
He said the Community Development Associations (CDAs) in Lagos State are the engine for growth and therefore called on the various CDAs to join hands with the government to ensure safety and security of lives and property in Lagos, particularly during the festive season.
House Passes Controversial Infectious Diseases’ Bill
Meanwhile, the proposed legislation in the House of Representatives titled: “A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Quarantine Act and Enact the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, make Provisions Relating to Quarantine and make Regulations for Preventing the Introduction into and Spread in Nigeria of Dangerous Infectious Diseases; and for Related Matters; (HB. 836),” was sponsored by the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila; the Chairman Committee on Healthcare Services, Hon. Tanko Sununu and Chairman Committee on Health Institutions, Hon. Pascal Obi.
The Bill which was introduced and passed for second reading by the lawmakers in May 2020. The proposed legislation among others seeks to strengthen the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and make it more proactive and not just reactive and function when there is an outbreak.
The bill also seeks to empower the Minister of Health as well as the director-general of NCDC, to make regulations on quarantining, vaccination and prevention of infectious diseases in Nigeria.
While supporting the bill, Gbajabiamila had said the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic bedeviling the world, makes it ideal to seek reforms of the public health emergency frameworks of the country.
According to him, the new bill would replace the Quarantine Act and tackle the limitations of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on curbing the spread of diseases.
However the bill birthed several controversies and criticisms from Nigerians, including 36 State Governors that condemned it, calling for it to be stepped down. They had said the bill lacked proper consultation. Also allegations that the House collected $10 million bribe from a foreign sponsor to speedily pass the bill trailed it at the time.
In his reaction, Gbajabiamila said the allegation that the bill was a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research while taking away their fundamental human rights was far from the truth.
While stating that members of the House would never contemplate doing anything that would jeopardise the wellbeing of the citizens, promised that a public hearing would be held on the bill.
Gbajabiamila also set up a 12-man committee to look into allegations that he and some members of the House collected $10 million bribe from a foreign sponsor to speedily pass the bill.
The Public Hearing, which held over a two-day period in June, 2020, at the National Assembly Complex saw the participation of diverse stakeholders ranging from government agencies to civil society organisations, religious and professional bodies and special interest groups who came in their numbers to make their views on the controversial bill known.
At the plenary yesterday, Tanko Sununu (Kebbi, APC) moved for the consideration of the report on the bill and it was seconded by Hon. Henry Nwawuba (Imo, PDP).
Presenting the report, Sununu said the Bill which contains 6 parts and 81 sections, is aimed at getting the country positioned to address public health challenges caused by infectious chemicals, radiations and other agents.
“The bill was passed for second reading, it was aimed at getting the country positioned to address public health challenges caused by infectious chemicals, radiations and other agents. It contains 6 parts and 81 sections. The committee deliberated severely and conducted a well-attended public hearing and organised a report drafting section to all members of the committee to produce the report as presented. After a diligent consideration, I wish to seek the leave of the chairman for the report to be considered by the committee of the whole. The bill has the capacity to improve the health system in Nigeria.”
Thereafter, the House suspended its relevant rules and moved that the bill and other bills be passed for third reading.
With this passage, the bill will be sent to Senate for concurrence for onward transmission to President Muhammadu Buhari for possible assent.