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Covid-19: News strain detected in Nigeria

Benjamin Ukpabi

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Covid-19: News strain detected in Nigeria

Scientists have discovered a mutated variant of the Corona Virus in Nigeria

The new variant of the coronavirus currently causing panic and concern in the United Kingdom and the European Union has been identified in Nigeria by scientists at the Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), at the Redeemers University in Ede, Osun State.

The new variant, detected in the UK in September and dubbed “lineage B.1.1.7” has triggered the current exponential spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the larger path of the United Kingdom, leading to a travel ban on the UK by some countries and a stay-at-home tier-4 level restriction in the affected paths of the country.

Now, scientists at the Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases at Ede, in South West Nigeria, said Monday, through a publication in Virological, a website for the global Genomics community, that they found the same variant “lineage B.1.1.7” existing in Osun State Nigeria since August 3rd when the first sample was collected. Another sample, also from Osun State, was collected in October correspondingly showed the presence of this new variant.

According to Christian Happi, Professor of molecular biology and genomics who is also the Director at the Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), “the B.1.1.7 lineage we found in Nigeria, predating the one described in the UK, has also been observed to rise rapidly in the UK over the past four weeks, indicating the plausible increased spread of the virus by specific non-synonymous mutations in the spike protein.” (Covid-19)

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Although Nigeria has in December recorded a rise in the number of cases and an increase in deaths, Mr Happi told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that he cannot credit the new variant for this rise as it was last seen in October and at the time, there was no surge in the number of cases.

“We however haven’t observed such rapid rise of the lineage in Nigeria and do not have sufficient evidence to indicate that the B.1.1.7 lineage is contributing to increased transmission of the virus in Nigeria,” he said.

Should this be a case for panic and worry for Nigerians? Mr. Happi’s team made a case for caution, warning that although the new variant might not be responsible for the rise in cases, that could change when new samples are sequenced.(Covid-19)

“At the moment, only about 1% of the genomes from Nigeria belong to the new SARS-CoV-2 variant (B.1.1.7 lineage) and one of them predates the first description in the UK. However, this might change in the next few weeks when we sequence more samples from the recently reported surge of covid-19 in Nigeria” they announced, noting that, “other reported mutations such as the N501Y, A570D, and the HV 69 – 70 deletion in the spike protein have not been detected in our genomes yet, this could also be associated with the non-increase of the lineage in Nigeria currently.”

“In as much as the full effect of this mutation isn’t known yet and it is still being studied, the importance of a robust genomic surveillance system cannot be overemphasized as we can identify and report changes in the genomes of pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 that are of public health interest,” the report said.

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From the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Director General, Chikwe Ihekweazu, in a tweet on Sunday, said, “while we study data in Nigeria and await additional guidance from @WHO on new strains causing COVID19, travelers MUST implement travel protocol.”

Federal authorities responded to the development by ordering the immediate closure of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants across the country. The number of guests at weddings, conferences, among others have also been limited to 50 persons, according to the chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, while speaking at its briefing on Monday.

Also following the announcement of the identification of the new variant of the coronavirus in the UK, countries have begun to issue travel ban at varying degrees.

These countries include the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Turkey, Switzerland and Canada as the most recent as of the time of filing this report.

The BBC reported that top health officials said that there was no evidence the new variant was more deadly or would react differently to vaccines, but it was proving to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new strain “was out of control. We have got to get it under control”, admitting that this was “an incredibly difficult end to frankly an awful year”, the report said.

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The BBC has also reported that It was first detected in September. In November around a quarter of cases in London were the new variant. This reached nearly two-thirds of cases in mid-December.

The WHO has said it is in close contact with the UK adding that the same strain has been identified in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.

There are rising concerns on whether the mutation in the virus will affect the vaccines. Scientists, however, have said the new variant will have no effect on the vaccine although a close watch has to be kept. (Covid-19)

“It stands to reason that this mutation isn’t a threat, but you never know. We still have to be diligent and continue to look,” said Nelson Michael, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

A presentation by David Robertson, from the University of Glasgow, on Friday, concluded: “The virus will probably be able to generate vaccine escape mutants.”

Vaccine escape happens when the virus changes so it dodges the full effect of the vaccine and continues to infect people.

Additionally, “the amount of evidence in the public domain is woefully inadequate to draw strong or firm opinions on whether the virus has truly increased transmission,” said Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham. (Covid-19)

 

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Breaking: Gunmen raze police station in Abia

Wisdom Nwachukwu

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While details of the attack were still sketchy at the time of filing the report, it was gathered the gunmen overpowered the policemen on duty and released suspects in custody.

It was however not clear if they invaded the police armoury.

Gunmen have reportedly attacked and razed down a police station in Uzoakoli, Bende local government area of Abia State.

The incident occurred in the early hours of Monday.

details shortly…

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Before I Fled Boko Haram’s Den, Many Chibok Schoolgirls Were Pregnant

Wisdom Nwachukwu

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A student of the College of Business and Management Studies in Konduga, Juliana Christopher, who was kidnapped by Boko Haram, has said she saw many Chibok girls in the insurgents’ camp.

He added that many small girls were either pregnant or nursing children belonging to the insurgents.

Christopher, in an interview with The PUNCH, said he spent three weeks in Boko Haram camp after the insurgents, who were dressed in military uniforms, stormed her school in Borno State and abducted her.

She explained that after she and her colleagues were kidnapped by the insurgents, they took them into the forest, where she saw other victims who were pregnant and nursing babies of the Boko Haram insurgents.

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She said, “On reaching their camp, we met many young girls there and the whole place was in disarray. It was in 2014 and I was in the Boko Haram camp for three weeks. We met Chibok girls in the camp. While in the camp, I saw so many small girls, who were kidnapped. Some were being molested.

“Some were carrying children, while others were pregnant for the Boko Haram insurgents. It was a disgusting thing. Fortunately for me and some other girls, we escaped from the forest and found our way back to Chibok.”

My abduction led to my father’s death, now I can’t continue education –Konduga student, who escaped from Boko Haram captivity
She explained that her father took ill shortly after she was kidnapped, adding that efforts to rescue him proved abortive.

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She said, “On getting to Chibok, I found the whole community in a state of confusion; so, I asked after my parents and was told that my father took ill when he heard about my abduction and my mother took him to the hospital in Maiduguri. I set out to go and look for them in Maiduguri, but I could not go far because the road was blocked and no movement was allowed, except for military vehicles; in that process, my father died.

“When I heard about my father’s condition, I became worried and tried to locate my parents in the hospital, not knowing that he was already dead. When I eventually got to the hospital in Maiduguri, my mother had conveyed my father’s corpse to Chibok for burial, so my mother said I should stay back to avoid another kidnap.
“That was how I got to this camp. I couldn’t continue with my education, because my mother alone could not take care of my schooling and that of my other siblings.”

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Boko Haram terrorists are our Muslim brothers, shouldn’t be killed like pigs: Minister Pantami

Wisdom Nwachukwu

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President Muhammadu Buhari’s communications minister Isa Pantami once condemned Nigerian Army’s incursion into Boko Haram strongholds, describing the insurgents as “our Muslim” brothers who did not deserve to be killed like pigs.

“See what our fellow Muslim brothers’ blood has turned to? Even pig blood has more value than that of a fellow Muslim brother,” Mr Pantami lamented in a sermon issued a few years ago when former President Goodluck Jonathan ramped up military operations against the rampaging terror sect.

Peoples Gazette obtained the audio through an anonymous contact on Thursday night. The location of Mr Pantami’s sermon and those who attended could not be immediately obtained, but the words, nonetheless, contradicted his recent claims that he had long maintained a hardline posture against Boko Haram.

Mr Pantami’s media allies have also been on an image laundering blitz to cast him as a moderate preacher who has been widely celebrated for his longstanding contempt for Boko Haram. Mr Pantami also joined his supporters to amplify a threat issued against him by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, evoking it to dismiss insinuations of his sympathy towards terrorists as counter-intuitive.

But in the February 2020 video, Mr Shekau appeared more frustrated by what he saw as Mr Pantami’s betrayal in becoming a top government official after spending years preaching Salafi doctrine than he was about the minister’s purported condemnation of Boko Haram’s deadly exploits.

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Mr Pantami has long been famous across northern parts of Nigeria as a respected Islamic cleric. He used most of his preachings to rail against the government’s high-handedness, and Peoples Gazette published a video on Thursday that showed him promising never to go into public service. The sermon was delivered in the mid-2000s, years before Mr Buhari appointed him in 2016 as the head of NITDA and later in 2019 as a cabinet minister in charge of communications.

“We are praying to God to answer all our prayers. It’s our right and obligation before all Muslim leaders, politicians, government appointees, academics,” Mr Pantami said in his prayers. “All of us should not fold their arms and watch helplessly how they shed our Muslim brothers’ blood and cheat them in vain.”

Mr Pantami said Boko Haram elements should have been treated with dignity as against the deadly military campaign, saying extermination of insurgents amounted to extrajudicial killing.

 

“Even if the Boko Haram fighters commit a crime, but can we justify the way and manner they are being killed?”

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“Just look at how they are killing people as if they are shooting pigs even though they commit a crime, why the extrajudicial killing? Take them before the law for a fair trial.

“You caught someone sleeping and you killed him. If it’s not Muslims that undergo such treatments who else?” Mr Pantami said.

The minister also said the previous administration should have pampered Boko Haram insurgents in the same manner as the Niger-Delta militants. Unlike Boko Haram that has been on senseless bloodshed against Nigerians of every faith and creed, the militants were fighting for a better share of oil wealth explored and extracted from their parts of the country.

After about three years of their violent campaign, which largely involved frequent abduction of expatriate oil workers and exchange of fire with security forces, the militants acquiesced to economic solutions and relinquished their arms in a deal brokered by former President Umar Yar’Adua.

But Mr Pantami disregarded the context of both groups and instead took a parallel position on how the government should respond to them.

“The Niger Delta people did something similar to this. They massacre people, steal weapons, killed expatriates and kidnap some of them,” Mr Pantami said. “Yet, you still accept them back, open a ministry for them, gave them a minister and put them on a monthly salary pay without work.”

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“The militants did more harm compared to what Boko Haram boys did,” the minister said. “But why will they do something like this? Why selective justice?”

 

The audio was part of a series of controversial sermons which Mr Pantami delivered at several worship centres and learning institutions across the northern parts of the country between the mid and late 2000s. The Gazette obtained the audio this week, most of which had already been transcribed and contextualized by an academic journal published online since March 2019.

Calls have now intensified for Mr Pantami to either publicly renounce his statements or step down from office, with some activists arguing that his position as a federal minister in charge of citizens’ data and the country’s telecoms infrastructure had become untenable.

As part of our series, The Gazette reached out to Mr Pantami repeatedly to learn whether or not he had renounced his controversial views but he declined all requests.

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