In a media briefing on COVID-19 on 7 July 2021, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, painfully announced that “the world is at a perilous point in this pandemic”. According to him, the world has “just passed the tragic milestone of 4 million recorded COVID-19 deaths, which likely underestimates the overall toll”. He also announced painfully too, that the “variants are currently winning the race against vaccines because of inequitable vaccine production and distribution, which also threatens the global economic recovery (See https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19-7-july-2021.
The grim milestone of four million global death toll was brought about so quickly by the emergence of the highly transmissible and deadly Delta COVID-19 variant across the world. This variant has been driving the increasing number of new cases and the accompanying death across much of the world. From Indonesia in Asia, to Russia in Europe, Mexico in Latin America and to South Africa or Senegal in Africa, the story of the devastating effects of the Delta variant is the same. In Africa alone for instance, the ‘Delta variant is present in 21 countries, and 10 are experiencing surges’, as reported by the African Defence Forum (ADF) on Tuesday, July 13, 2021 (See http://www.adf.magazine.com).
It is against this background that one can fully comprehend the observations made by Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus. In actual fact, the world is currently imperiled particularly with the prevailing ravaging effects of the Delta variant in many countries. For example, the WHO had announced on Wednesday 14 July 2021 that the Delta variant has been identified in 111 countries, territories and areas, with Nigeria, Ecuador and Afghanistan as among the 15 countries that reported their first cases of the deadly variant in past one week (See Sambad English Bureau, July 15, 2021 via http://www.sambadenglish.com). Come to think of it, four million global death toll is a huge number, as this surpasses the population of a number of small countries in the world.
In Nigeria particularly, the situation is of greater concern since the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed the presence of the Delta variant in the country and the subsequent increase in confirmed new cases. This is against the fact that prior to this dreadful development, the number of confirmed cases of the virus had gone down considerably in the last few months. The sharp increase in new cases attracted the attention of the Governor of Lagos State Babajide Sanwo-Olu who in a press statement on 11 July 2021 aptly said:
Regrettably, in spite of the hard work and dedicated efforts towards sustaining the return to normalcy, over the last three months, we are now finding ourselves at what appears to be the start of a potential 3rd wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Lagos State. From the beginning of July, we started to experience a steep increase in the number of daily confirmed cases, with the test positivity rate going from 1.1% at the end of June 2021 to its current rate of 6.6% as at 8th of July 2021. The rapid increase within a week gives great cause for concern. Also, within the last two weeks, the occupancy rate at our 2 isolation centres increased from an average of 1% to 6%. This is the new and disturbing reality that now confronts us. But we must not be demoralised by this. We must instead resolve that we will not leave any stone unturned in our bid to effectively mitigate the third wave of this pandemic in Lagos State (Emphasis added). (See https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/472980-covid-19-third-wave-now-imminent-insists-on-full-protocols-compliance-sanwo-olu.html).
Furthermore, the shocking news of the outbreak of the virus in the students’ hostel of the University of Lagos has added more credence to the governor’s fears that Lagos State which was the epicentre of the first and second waves of the virus, might be at the verge of a third wave. And as a result of the outbreak of the virus in the students’ hall of residence, the management of the University of Lagos announced the indefinite closure of the institution from Thursday 15 July 2021 and directed that lectures should continue virtually as from 26 July 2021.
This action of the University of Lagos management is no doubt a good proactive measure but it is not enough. The government of Lagos State and the management of NCDC should equally take particular interest in this case so as to arrest what might be the beginning of the wider spread of the virus beyond the campus. They can for instance (among others) take two additional measures. First, the contact tracing already initiated should be fully completed before the affected students are ordered to vacate. The manner in which the order to vacate the hotels was issued appeared not to have taken this factor into consideration, as everyone was asked to vacate the hostels before 12 noon on Thursday, July 15, 2021.
Secondly, students who are vacating the campus should be strongly advised to go for rapid diagnostic test particularly those who would remain in Lagos to continue their lectures virtually. Students traveling outside Lagos should be strongly advised to do the same and their state governments and other relevant health authorities in their states should also take special interest in this matter. We say so against the background that any negligence may possibly cause the deadly Delta virus (which may not be ruled out among the students) to spread widely across the country. Proactive measures remain one of the best measures to prevent the virus from causing greater harm to the population. For example, the Delta variant would have been in Nigeria much earlier if not for the proactive action taken by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) to ban travellers from India, South Africa and Brazil entering into the country at the time it did.
It is also in this regard that one welcomes the action by the Governor of Lagos State (in the same press statement) that the government is “mandating full compliance with all protective protocols. Compulsory use of masks in all public places, social distancing, temperature checks, provisions for hand-washing and sanitizers, and a maximum of 50 percent occupancy in enclosed spaces”. This column welcomes the re-introduction of these excellent safety measures which should be enforced strictly in the same way they were carried out during the period of the national lockdown in 2020. And in furtherance to these, the NCDC should reactivate its full risk communication messages as it excellently did during the period of the national lockdown also.
Back to the global scene, the observation by Dr. Ghebreyesus that the major reason for the perilous state of the world in this pandemic is “because of inequitable vaccine production and distribution”, does not (in the opinion of this column) satisfactorily explain the problem. This column therefore differs slightly from his thesis. The question to ask is how did the variant emerge in the first place? Did the variant emerge because of lack of vaccine? The answer is definitely no.
This column welcomes Dr. Ghebreyesus’ passionate advocacy for vaccine equity amidst the prevailing accusation of vaccine nationalism, but, however, thinks also that the egoistically-induced negligence of some political leaders across the world and whose wrong political choices created super-spreader events of the virus and kept the death toll rising, is a major factor to take into account. Such wrong political choices as happened in India (for example) helped to give rise to the Delta variant ravaging the world today.
The call for vaccine equity therefore should be vociferously canvassed along with strong advocacy for political leaders across the world to keep strictly to the observance of the safety protocols in their country. This column thinks that the world has a lot to learn from Australia which is providing the right political leadership in the management of the virus. In the same manner, the strong political leadership demonstrated by Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand in controlling the spread of the virus in her country, is worthy of emulation. The point is worth being made strongly that the world is still in an emergency pandemic situation and so eternal vigilance by political leaders, is imperative.
Finally, this column throws its weight behind the passionate suggestion by Dr. Ghebreyesus that 10 percent of people in all countries should be vaccinated by September 2021 and for that figure to rise to 40 percent by the end of the year. As he rightly argued, this “would position the world on the path to vaccinating 70 percent of the people in all countries by the middle of 2022”. And to achieve this, he called on the G20 Finance Ministers and other leaders to get behind these targets collectively because it is the fastest way to end the acute stage of the pandemic, save lives and livelihoods and drive a truly global economic recovery’ (See https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19-7-july-2021).
•Prof. Isaac N. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: [email protected].