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42 COVID-19 infections recorded, FG rules out restrictions

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The Federal Government has insisted it will not impose COVID-19 restrictions on China despite the rising infections in the East Asia country.

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The Coordinator and Technical Head of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Dr Muktar Muhammad, who stated this in an interview with The PUNCH in Abuja on Sunday, however, said the government has raised the surveillance level in the country.

China’s decision to relax its strict COVID-19 rules to curb the virus and lack of transparency has been greeted with some anxiety in many countries.

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At least 23 countries have imposed restrictions on travellers from China amid fears of an increase in COVID-19.

Data from the World Health Organisation shows that China reported 24,565 new cases on January 13, 2023, and so far there are 10,855,369 confirmed cases and 33,698 deaths.

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However, Muhammad said countries imposing restrictions on China are doing so without a scientific basis as available data shows that cases are increasing worldwide.

He said, “For us, what we are doing now is to try to raise our surveillance level to be able to understand what kind of viruses are coming in, to continue to do our genomic sequencing to identify the variants that are coming into Nigeria so that we will have credible intelligence on what we need to do.”

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The expert said the government has intensified surveillance at sentinel points to monitor the situation in the country.

He added, “We believe what is happening is not more than a seasonal increase in upper respiratory tract infections, including COVID-19, and we are monitoring the various variants circulating in the world.”

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42 new cases

Meanwhile, the centre has confirmed 42 new cases of the virus in the country in two weeks.

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The cases were recorded in Lagos, Edo, Kano, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Plateau States as well as the Federal Capital Territory.

The 42 new cases brought the nation’s confirmed COVID-19 infections to 266,492, according to the NCDC.

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The PUNCH reports that the cases were recorded from December 31, 2022, to January 13, 2023.

The centre said, “From December 31, 2022, to January 6, 2023, 13 new confirmed cases were recorded in Nigeria.

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“The 13 new cases are reported from two states – Lagos (12) and Edo (one).”

The NCDC also said from January 7 to January 13, 2023, 29 new confirmed cases were recorded in the country.

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“The 29 new cases are reported from six States- Lagos (15), FCT (5), Kano (four), Nasarawa (three), Kaduna (one), and Plateau (one).

“A multi-sectoral national Emergency Operations Centre activated at Level 2, continues to coordinate the national response activities.”

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China releases data

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation said it is analysing the COVID-19 situation data provided to the agency by China.

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The WHO in a press statement made available to The PUNCH said Chinese officials provided information to the agency on a range of topics, including outpatient clinics, hospitalisations, patients requiring emergency treatment and critical care, and hospital deaths related to COVID-19 infection.

“WHO is analysing this information, which covers early December 2022 to January 12, 2023, and allows for a better understanding of the epidemiological situation and the impact of this wave in China. WHO requested that this type of detailed information continue to be shared with us and the public.”

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Experts speak

A virologist at the Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, Dr Oladipo Kolawole, said there should be a concern about flights coming from China and the government should put necessary measures in place at both the NCDC travel Portal and points of entry to the country.

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He said “I think we require a negative COVID-19 test from the passengers coming from such region if not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if the government deem fits, they should not be banned for now like other countries that have done that.

Also, a medical laboratory scientist at the Department of Microbiology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State, Obinna Chukwudi, urged the government to quarantine travellers from China to mitigate the spread of the virus.

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“We can’t always wait till things get bad before strengthening our health system to abate future pandemics or epidemics. The government must invest and finance the health institutions to better great ready,” he said.

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Nigerian researchers hand over Covid-19 vaccine for pre-clinical trial

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By Francesca Iwambe, Abuja

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Nigerian researchers engaged in the Tertiary Education Trust Fund-sponsored Vaccine Development Mega Research Project at Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, have successfully handed over the Covid-19 DNA vaccine candidate for preclinical trials in Nigeria.

The academics, in a symbolic handover of the vaccine candidate in Sokoto for trial, said despite the numerous challenges faced during the procurement of some of the consumables, equipment and reagents from abroad, within 11 months of the receipt of the first tranche of TETFund grant, the vaccine was ready.

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Speaking at the “Presentation of Milestone on the TETFund-sponsored Vaccine Development Mega Research Project,” Vice Chancellor of Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, Prof Lawal Suleman Bilbis, said the handing over of a vaccine candidate for trials goes a long way to showcase the ability of indigenous scientists to solve the nation’s problems using home-grown resources and facilities.

Bilbis also said the “milestone portrays our expertise in the application of state-of-the art technologies to rapidly develop vaccine candidates against any emerging or re-emerging Infectious diseases in Nigeria.”

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He assured that the nation is very close to reaping the benefits of the investment and confidence bestowed upon us, adding that they will converge in the next few months to celebrate the successful completion of this project.

“Let me at this juncture Inform the Executive Secretary that through the support of TETFUND, researchers in this University have been able to work on many other high-impact projects that are already yielding promising results.

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“As I speak, we have successfully designed and constructed a recombinant DNA vaccine targeting all the lineages of Lassa virus circulating in Nigeria, using a TETFUND National Research Fund (NRF) grant. Additionally, TETFUND Covid-19 Special Intervention Research Grant has supported our study on the innovative approach to rapidly identify potential therapeutics for COVID-19.

“The study identified 7 orthodox medicines for repurposing and 2 herbal medicines with significant inhibitory activities against the virus that causes COVID-19. Indeed, there are many more TETFund-supported projects, too numerous to mention, which are helping our researchers to showcase their talents and skills, while at the same time, assisting to solve the nation’s problems. We remain extremely grateful to TETFUND for its support,” he said.

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The Executive Secretary of TETFund, Arc Sonny Echono, on his part commended the efforts and output by Usman Danfodio University in terms of research and Development, adding that the University has succeeded in accessing over 35 NRF grants over the years, placing it among the best performing Institutions in accessing the National Research Fund, NRF.

Echono appealed to Nigerian researchers not to relent on the overarching goal of delivering a homemade Covid-19 vaccine.

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The TETFund boss also disclosed that the mega research project is one out of four projects supported by the fund at a total sum of N1,250,000,000.

He said the aim of the research is to “strengthen collaborative research by promoting decentralized cooperation involving clusters of researchers from different institutions to consolidate problem-solving research and promote Innovation in Nigeria.”

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According to him, TETFund has been making concerted efforts to identify more innovative ways of using government and donor funding in research programmes and projects for maximum developmental impact.

“This Project has shown that collaboration among stakeholders, each adding value from their area of specialization to address issues of national priority will achieve the desired goals towards national development and tackling of developmental challenges.

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“It also indicates to us that we are moving in the right direction, as one of the mandates of the Fund’s R&D department is to promote multi- disciplinary research that will increase stakeholders’ participation in developmental matters,” he said.

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Nigeria at very high risk of increased Lassa fever transmission –NCDC warns

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By Francesca Iwambe, Abuja

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has warned that the country is at a very high risk of increased Lassa fever transmission.

In a statement issued on Monday, the agency stated that it has activated the national multi-sectoral emergency operations centre for Lassa fever (LF-EOC) at level 2 to coordinate and strengthen ongoing response activities in the country.

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According to the NCDC, the operations centre was activated following a risk assessment carried out on January 20 by its experts and relevant stakeholders.

“The outcome of the risk assessment placed the country at a very high risk of increased Lassa fever transmission due to an unprecedented upward trend in the number of confirmed cases being reported compared to previous years, increased number of states reporting cases in comparison to previous years and increased risk of healthcare worker infections and deaths due to Lassa fever infection,” the statement reads.

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“Infection and death among the healthcare workers accounted for 5 and 1 of the confirmed cases and deaths respectively, highlighting the need for an increased index of suspicion among healthcare workers.”

The NCDC said the purpose of emergency operations centre activation was to achieve a coordinated national response and reduce suffering and death due to the disease.

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“Ahead of the projected rise of Lassa fever cases and as the country began to witness a rise in cases in the last week on November 2022, the NCDC prepositioned supplies for case management, infection prevention and control, laboratory diagnosis, etc. in all historical Lassa fever hotspots in the country.”

“This was complemented by correspondence sent to the Honourable Commissioners of Health, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, State Ministries of Health, and respective professional bodies of healthcare workers to alert and sensitize them on the situation as well as to advocate for in-State activities to respond to Lassa fever.”

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It could be recalled that as of January 22, Nigeria recorded 244 confirmed cases with 37 deaths from 16 states and the FCT.

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Lassa fever cases rise as 37 persons killed in three weeks –NCDC

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By Francesca Iwambe, Abuja

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said that at least 244 Lassa fever cases have been recorded in the country in 2023.

The agency’s latest Lassa fever report said 137 new cases were recorded in week three from January 16 to January 22.

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The cases were reported from Ondo, Edo, Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Plateau, Kogi, Anambra, Delta, FCT, Adamawa, and Enugu states.

The new figure shows a 77.9 percent increase from the cases recorded in week 2.

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The agency also said 18 more people have died from the disease, bringing the number of deaths in 2023 to 37.

“In week 3, the number of new confirmed cases increased from 77 in week 2 2023 to 137 cases,” the report reads.

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“Cumulatively from week 1 to week 3, 2023, 37 deaths have been reported with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 15.1% which is lower than the CFR for the same period in 2022 (18.8%).

 

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“In total for 2023, 16 states have recorded at least one confirmed case across 50 Local Government Areas.

“Seventy-nine (79%) of all confirmed Lassa fever cases were reported from these three states (Ondo, Edo, and Bauchi) while 21% were reported from 13 states with confirmed Lassa fever cases. Of the 79% of confirmed cases, Ondo reported 37%, Edo 36%, and Bauchi 5%.

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“The predominant age group affected is 21-30 years (Range: 1 to 79 years, Median Age: 30 years). The male-to-female ratio for confirmed cases is 1:0.9.

“The number of suspected cases increased compared to that reported for the same period in 2022.

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“Two new Healthcare workers were affected in the reporting week 3.”

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