Nigeria has detected its first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in travellers that arrived from South Africa in the past week, the country’s national public health institute said Wednesday, correcting its earlier statement that it found the variant in samples taken in October.
The Nigeria Center for Disease Control (CDC) said in a second statement that it was the delta variant — not omicron as it had earlier stated — that was detected in the samples from October. It said the omicron variant was first detected in three travellers who arrived in the country in the past week.
“Samples obtained for the stipulated day two test for all travellers to Nigeria were positive for this variant in three persons with history of travel to South Africa,” Nigeria CDC director general Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa said in the second statement.
Nigeria was the first West African country to have 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.
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 the vaccine.
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, no one has been tested for the virus for weeks, said Musa Ahmed, a public health official.
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.
With the vaccine mandate taking effect on Wednesday, there were chaotic scenes at several offices in the nation’s capital as civil servants without a vaccination card or a negative PCR test were turned away by security agents.
A slew of nations — including Canada — moved to restrict or 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 Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is currently in Nigeria on a two-day visit.
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.
Meanwhile, Ghana said that its scientists have detected cases of the omicron coronavirus variant in passengers who arrived in the country on Nov. 21. The director general of the Ghana Health Service, Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, said Wednesday that the cases were detected at the Kotoka International Airport after tests were conducted on passengers. He said no cases have been found within communities in Ghana, indicating that it has not yet spread locally
Further west on the continent, Liberia launched surveillance along its borders and placed health officers assigned there on full alert, although no cases of the omicron variant have been reported there.
Liberia’s Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah urged citizens to take preventive measures but not panic. She urged them to take advantage of the vaccination campaign.
“You cannot go to war if you are not prepared for the war,” she said. “And our preparation for this war against COVID-19 — whether it is alpha, delta or omicron — is to protect ourselves by getting at least a jab in your arm … so we just want to raise this heightened alert.”
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 10:15 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
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 confirmed 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 the Americas, 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