Nigeria has detected its first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in a sample it collected in October, weeks before South Africa alerted the world about the variant last week, the country’s national public health institute said Wednesday.
It is the first West African country that has recorded the omicron variant since scientists in southern Africa detected and reported it and adds to a list of nearly 20 countries where the variant has been recorded, triggering travel bans across the world.
Genomic sequencing of positive cases of COVID-19 among incoming international travellers has confirmed an omicron case dating back to October, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control said in a statement issued by its director general. Nigeria has also identified two cases of the omicron variant among travellers who arrived from South Africa last week,
“Retrospective sequencing of the previously confirmed cases among travellers to Nigeria also identified the omicron variant among the sample collected in October 2021,” Nigeria CDC Director General Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa said.
Federal officials in Canada on Tuesday announced that Nigeria had been added to the list of countries facing travel restrictions. As of Wednesday, foreign nationals who have been to any of the 10 listed African countries “within the previous 14 days will not be permitted entry into Canada,” a statement from the federal government said.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and if it can thwart vaccines.
The Nigeria CDC urged the country’s states and the general public to be on alert and called for improved testing amid concerns that Nigeria’s low testing capacity might become its biggest challenge in the face of the new variant.
Testing for the virus is low in many states and even in the nation’s capital, Abuja. For instance, in parts of Kuje, a suburb of Abuja, Musa Ahmed, a public health official, told The Associated Press that no one has been tested for the virus for weeks.
The detection of the omicron variant in Africa’s most-populous nation, with 206 million people, coincides with Nigeria’s new requirement that all federal government employees must be inoculated or present a negative COVID-19 test result done in the last 72 hours.
The new variant has caused concern as its mutations could potentially reduce the effect of vaccines, though it would take weeks to determine that.
Amid global concern over the omicron variant, the Nigeria CDC director general told reporters that the country remains on alert in the face of the emerging crisis.
A slew of nations moved to ban travellers from many countries, especially southern African nations in the aftermath of the emergence of the omicron variant. But the move has been widely condemned by many, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is currently in Nigeria on a two-day visit.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
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What’s happening around the world
As of early Wednesday morning, more than 262.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to the case-tracking database maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan has asked international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December in a further tightening of already strict border controls.
The transportation ministry says the request is an emergency precaution. The move by the world’s third-largest economy, coupled with its recent return to a ban on foreign visitors, is among the most stringent anywhere, and more in line with cloistered neighbour China than with some other democracies in the region.
Meanwhile, South Korea confirms its first cases of the new omicron variant in five people linked to international arrivals.
The country’s daily COVID-19 tally reached 5,123 as the country grapples with rising numbers of severe cases. The surge began in early November after the country relaxed restrictions. The new variant prompted the government to halt plans on Monday for a further easing.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia said it detected its first case of the new coronavirus variant, omicron. The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency said the case came from a citizen coming from what it described as a “North African country.”
The report said the infected individual and his close contacts had been quarantined. The case marks the first-known instance of omicron being detected among Gulf Arab nations.
In Africa, the omicron coronavirus variant detected in southern Africa could be the most likely candidate to displace the highly contagious delta variant, the director of South Africa’s communicable disease institute said.
In the Americas, the Biden administration extended the comment period on its sweeping workplace COVID-19 vaccine rule by 45 days as it seeks feedback from various stakeholders including private employers on whether a recently issued emergency temporary standard should become a permanent rule.
Air travellers to the United States will face tougher COVID-19 testing rules as several countries moved to seal off their borders amid growing uncertainty around the virulence of the omicron variant and its ability to dodge existing vaccines.
In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a new COVID-19 lockdown was unlikely despite worries about the new omicron coronavirus variant, after eight new cases were identified in England.
Epidemiological update for 1/12 on the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Omicron?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Omicron</a> variant: 15 additional SARS-CoV-2 Omicron cases have been confirmed, bringing the total to 59 confirmed cases. Cases have been reported by 11 EU/EEA countries, per public sources.<br><br>More info: <a href=”https://t.co/sSlVMoCRT8″>https://t.co/sSlVMoCRT8</a>
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 8:10 a.m. ET