Third wave scare: Lagos inspects Synagogue ahead of Joshua’s burial

• Deadly Delta variant already in 96 countries, says WHO
• Nigeria records 71 new cases, Lagos with 63
• Fears over misappropriation of N10b released for local manufacture of vaccines

Days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread massively around the world, up to 96 countries as of June 29, a delegation from the Lagos State Government led by the Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi and the Director General of the Lagos Safety Commission, Mr. Lanre Mojola, yesterday, visited the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN).

The visit was to inspect facilities at the church for COVID-19 safety and prevention protocols compliance as part of efforts to halt the importation of COVID-19 variants into Nigeria, especially during the burial of Prophet Temitope Joshua this week.

This is coming one week after the Federal Government said the deadly Delta variant had not yet been discovered in the country, though the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) recorded an escalation in COVID-19 infections at the weekend, with 71 recorded on Saturday as against 40 on Friday.

Of the 71 new cases, Lagos reported 63, while Oyo logged four cases, Ogun had three and Kano one. “A total of 167,803 infections have been confirmed so far, 164,378 of the cases have been discharged and 2,121 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT),” NCDC said, adding that the country has so far tested over 2.3 million samples from its roughly 200 million population.

Speaking during a virtual media briefing on COVID-19 at the weekend, the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said globally, there is a lot of concern about the Delta variant.

“As some countries ease public health and social measures, we are starting to see increases in transmission around the world. More cases mean more hospitalisations, further stretching health workers and health systems, which increases the risk of death,” he warned.

In his reassurance last week, Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, said the Delta variant, first identified in India, is more contagious than the UK variant and as such, Nigeria needs to tighten its borders to prevent the influx of passengers with the Delta variant.

“The four major variants of concern are now classified as Alpha (UK), Beta (South Africa), Gamma (Brazil) and Delta (India). The Delta variant, which has wreaked devastating havoc, is not yet found in Nigeria, hence the need to tighten our borders and be more vigilant,” he said.

Not leaving anything to chance, the Lagos State government, yesterday, inspected facilities at the Ikotun centre of SCOAN as it prepares to host visitors from across the world beginning from today for the week-long funeral activities of its late founder, Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua.

Speaking after the inspection of the church facilities and meeting with the church officials, Abayomi said the inspection was in line with the third wave mitigation strategy of the Lagos State government to prevent the importation and spread of new deadly strains of COVID-19 into Lagos and Nigeria.

Abayomi added that the inspection and meeting with officials of SCOAN was to limit any possibility of the introduction of foreign COVID-19 variants among the congregation and by extension to the community.

He said, “On behalf of the Lagos State government we want to offer our deep condolences to the family of the prophet and members of the congregation. In these very precarious times that we are in, with a global pandemic that is evolving dynamically; what we now know is that there are different strains of the virus circulating around the world, and Lagos State has a very strong third wave prevention strategy.

“The likely cause of a third wave is going to be an importation from visitors who are infected with the virus, so we are particularly careful about working with the Synagogue to make sure that we have a collaboration that will reduce the opportunity to zero of us either importing a virus or even allowing someone who is positive to interact with the community.

“And the Incident Commander, Mr. Governor has said that this a priority event and we have to ensure that we give SCOAN all the support it requires to make sure that the series of planned events for the funeral scheduled between July 5 and 11 are performed under the strictest guidelines to limit any possibilities of introduction of foreign COVID variants among the congregation or the movement of the virus in such an environment that would make transmission easier.

“So, we have engaged with several stakeholders, we are looking at the airport and the land borders. Any visitor coming into the country has to go through the mandatory seven days of isolation plus testing before they can participate in any of the activities. We have inspected all the accommodation, we have looked at the auditorium and we have calculated how to completely eliminate the chance and the risk of infectious transmission.”

MEANWHILE, the Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19 and a virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, has raised the alarm that the N10 billion announced by the Federal Government towards local manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines may soon be misappropriated even as Innovative Biotech Nigeria has developed a novel COVID-19 vaccine, using virus like particle platform technology.

Tomori, who is also the pioneer Vice Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, a consultant to the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as Chairman, Biovaccines Nigeria Limited (BVNL), told The Guardian: “As to the phantom N10 billion allocation from the Federal Government, all we have is the announcement. Series of meetings have been held by BVNL with FG and relevant committees of the National Assembly (NASS). As of date, and according to the Minister of Health, “the N10 billion is intact within the Ministry.

“There has been a suggestion or a plan by NASS to split the money into two and use one part to start another and new vaccine production facility. We think this is not the way to go. Indeed, it is not only diversionary, but also a futile exercise, as Nigeria will be like the hunter pursuing two rats at the same time. A wise hunter will make sure he catches one rat, before pursuing the other. And when you see how long it has taken BVNL to reach this stage despite government policy somersaults, then you will see that pursuing building two vaccine facilities at the same time will be suicidal for both projects. So in conclusion, Nigeria has not sunk 10 billion into any vaccine production project.”

On plans for local manufacture of vaccines, the virologist said plans are progressing as BVNL is in discussion with financial and technical partners for the construction of the facilities at Ota. He said agreements have been signed for the development of architectural and engineering details for the vaccine production facilities.

Speaking on the implication of gross shortage of vaccines, especially in Africa and other poor countries, Tomori said: “The implication is that it will take longer than anticipated to vaccinate the estimated numbers of people needed to attain the desired level of herd immunity. The solution is an aggressive and relentless national effort to acquire, mainly through purchase of the vaccines we need. Waiting for donated vaccines is a sure way to prolong our vulnerability to the disease.”

A virologist, vaccinologist and Chief Executive Officer of Innovative Biotech Nigeria, Dr. Simon Agwale, told The Guardian: “Cuba has just developed their homegrown COVID-19 and plan to vaccinate their entire population soon. This requires that vaccine-manufacturing capacity be established immediately in Nigeria to address this current and future pandemics. It is because of this and other reasons that Innovative Biotech Nigeria and partners have developed a novel COVID-19 vaccine using the ‘Virus Like Particle’ platform technology, which has previously been used to develop hepatitis B and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccines. Innovative Biotech is planning to commence Phases 1 and 2 clinical trials by year-end, and will be ready to commence its Phase 3 trial early next year in Nigeria. We then plan to establish a manufacturing facility in Abuja to both manufacture the vaccine and perform the fill and finish procedures.”

Agwale said the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region requires 240 million courses of vaccine against COVID-19, with Nigeria alone requiring 140 million doses to cover about 70 per cent of her population. He said out of this, 20 per cent is expected to come from COVAX facility and so far only about four million doses have been received.

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