It is the first West African country that has recorded the omicron variant since scientists in southern Africa raised the alarm. Nearly 20 countries have so far identified cases of the variant, 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 (NCDC) said in a statement issued by its director-general.
“Retrospective sequencing of the previously confirmed cases among travelers to Nigeria also identified the omicron variant among the sample collected in October 2021,” NCDC director-general Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa said.
Nigeria has also identified two cases of the omicron variant among travelers who arrived from South Africa last week.
Data from other countries already shows the variant was circulating before it was officially identified in southern Africa. Work to establish if it is more infectious, deadly or evades vaccines will take weeks.
Across Nigeria, the news of the omicron variant — which the World Health Organization has warned poses “very high” risk — has triggered concerns and renewed fears over the Covid-19 pandemic.
The NCDC 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, said that no one has been tested for the virus for weeks.
The detection of the 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.
Nigeria — with 214,218 confirmed infections including nearly 3,000 deaths — has updated its travel advisory, ordering incoming international travelers to have a PCR test 48 hours before embarking on their trip to the country and two more tests, two days and seven days after arrival. Incoming international arrivals must also isolate for seven days.
Amid global concern over the omicron variant, the Nigeria CDC director-general told reporters that the country remains at alert in the face of the emerging crisis.
“We are working very hard to enhance ongoing surveillance, especially for inbound travelers, and also trying to ramp up testing (including) at the land borders,” he said.
South African President Cyril Rampahosa and his Nigerian counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari are meeting in Abuja on Wednesday, when omicron is likely to be discussed.
Additional reporting by agencies