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Opinions of Saturday, 17 July 2021

Columnist: Ayo Oyoze Baje

Coronavirus Delta Variant: Time to act is now!

COVID-19 testing COVID-19 testing

It came like a bolt out of the blues, turning the table on the global socio-economic and political matrix. It came more deadly and devastating on the human health status than the searing scourges of previous diseases such as measles, cholera, HIV-AIDS and that of course, Ebola virus, which reared its ugly head just a few years ago.

Precisely on December 3, 2019, the WHO was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan City, China. A novel coronavirus was identified as the cause by the Chinese authorities on January 7, 2020 and was temporarily named “2019-nCoV”. Ever since, the world has never been the same.

Going by startling statistics available on the WHO news dashboard, confirmed global cases stood at 187, 827, 660 (18.78m) with confirmed deaths at an astonishing 4, 055, 497 (4.05m) while the vaccine doses have so far been administered on 3, 400, 884, 367 (3.4bn) people worldwide as of the time of writing this on Wednesday.

But just when those of us still lucky to be alive were about celebrating victory against the excruciating pandemic, the news is that of the emergence of the Delta variant. It has come from India via the mutant of the earlier version of the virus, cutting short our dancing steps. For now, it is jolting us to a clarion call to brace ourselves for a more dehumanising and asphyxiating variant. We are in the Biblical End Time, aren’t we? Of course, we are!

The doubting Thomases should consider these screaming headlines: “Most of UK Revises COVID-19 Travel Lists Amid Rising Case Fears”; “Pop Star, Olivia Rodrigo, Pushes Biden’s Youth Vaccination Drive”; “Israel Launches Third Vaccine Jab For Most Vulnerable”; “Thailand Defends COVID-19 Vaccine ‘Mix-And-Match’ after WHO Warning”; “Worst of COVID-19 Is Yet To Come For Africa – WHO”. And of course, “Nigeria Records COVID-19 Spike with 161 New Cases”.

Yes, you read that right. In fact, the WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, stated in a recent speech on the health body’s website that: “Delta and other highly transmissible variants are driving catastrophic waves of case, which are translating into high numbers of hospitalisations and death”. He went further to caution the world against the false hope of vaccines as being a quick fix to the virus. He therefore, wants world leaders to put in collaborative efforts to stop the spread of the new variant around the globe.

What are the symptoms of the Delta variant? That is the all-important question. According to the WHO, the symptoms are quite similar to those seen with the original coronavirus strain and other variants, including a persistent cough, headache, fever, and sore throat.

Yet, it has now spread across 104 countries! Though by June 1, it had spread to 62 countries, some two weeks later, it had been found in 80 countries and by July 4, the number had risen to 104. Kazakhstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Namibia, Oman and Sierra Leone are the latest countries to confirm the presence of the Delta variant. June 7. Sad to say that Nigeria has since joined the fray!

Recent media reports stated that Oyo COVID-19 Task Force urged vigilance as it had uncovered the virulent Delta variant of coronavirus in the state. The state Incident Manager and coordinator of the Emergency Operations Centre, Dr. Olabode Ladipo, has confirmed this development

On his part, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has ordered religious gatherings and event centres to cut down to 50% capacity. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Nigeria is increasing rapidly following daily reports by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, accounted for the highest number of cases. Health officials are already raising concern over shortage of oxygen to patients suffering from acute respiratory illnesses.

Explaining the trajectory of the COVID-19 incidents, Sanwo-Olu stated that: “From the beginning of July, we started to experience a steep increase in the number of daily confirmed cases, with the test positivity rate going from 1.1 per cent at the end of June 2021 to its current rate of 6.6 per cent as of July 8, 2021. The rapid increase within a week gives great cause for concern”. He has therefore, called for greater vigilance ahead of the gatherings in mosques ahead of the Sallah celebration.

Though the Chief Medical Director, Prof. Chris Bode of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, has debunked viral reports on social media that Block B Wards have been reopened for COVID-19 and the wards are full of patients, there must be preparation ahead of eventualities.

The shock on individuals, communities, countries, continents as well as public and private institutions has become the trigger for salient questions all begging for urgent answers.The public should be sensitised to what really the Delta variant of COVID-19 is.Where did it emerge from? What are the symptoms and what efforts are being made to curtail its rampaging spread, globally?

Significant too is that we have to know, as concerned citizens in specific terms what our dear country Nigeria and its NCDC are doing to clip the virus’ wanton wings?

Credible answers to these questions have become an imperative. These will douse the increasing, freezing fear of imminent death as it looms every blessed day. There is cause for serious concern given the hounding scenario of a country whose economy is in dire straits. Ours is an economy currently enmeshed in a quagmire with stifling statistics of an inflation rate that has galloped from 11.4% in 2019 to 13.25% in 2020 to 15.97% in 2021as published by Aaron O’Neill (www.statista.com ).

This is worse still for a country with ever escalating food inflation rate, courtesy of growing and gnawing insecurity, and a health spectre so decrepit the president has to jet out to foreign lands for medical attention each time the needs arises. So, where is the hope for the common man?

This time round, there must be mass public enlightenment on what it all entails, through all arms of the media which unfortunately, this regime is attempting to stifle, for reasons best known to it. The NCDC must be transparent in all its dealings with the victims. And the state governors should not wait for any mass protest as it was with the #ENDSARS to distribute palliatives to the helpless citizens. It should borrow a fresh leaf from the Paul Kegame-led Rwanda.

Nigeria should not only key into the GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), which is a global health partnership of public and private sector organizations dedicated to “immunisation for all” but encourageour local scientists, inventors and researchers to come up with home-grown remedies to the Delta variant of COVID-19.

As medical experts and analysts caution, if the rich countries continue to buy up the first available doses of the vaccines and prevent their distribution across the world, the pandemic will last much longer. Our political leaders should also learn from the foibles and dilly-dallying antics of the then Donald Trump-led administration in the United States that led to several preventable, technical hitches and loss of irreplaceable human lives. The time to act is now!