Sunday marks two years since Nigeria confirmed its first case of COVID-19.
The country’s index case was a 44-year-old Italian citizen who arrived the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, aboard Turkish Airline from Milan, Italy.
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He travelled to a company site where he worked in Ogun State before developing symptoms which was confirmed as COVID-19 on February 27, 2020.
Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said he was confirmed by the virology laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), part of the laboratory network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos,” he had said.
Some efforts against COVID-19 by the federal government include instituting a lockdown in Lagos and Abuja, and setting up the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 later known as Presidential Steering Committee (PSC).
Experts said factors that contributed to COVID-19 cases in the country include delay in closure of international borders by the federal government, inadequate testing centres and low testing rate in the country, inaction by some state governors, delay in ordering a lockdown as well as violation of lockdown.
Others are lack of belief in the existence of COVID-19, flouting of preventive measures, and poor contract tracing which led to community transmission among others.
Preparedness and response in the first few months of the pandemic in the country were also marred by delay in getting test results, and inadequate isolation and treatment centres, among others.
The COVID-19 response has undergone various experiences in infrastructure, diagnosis, test results, service delivery and compliance to safety protocols in the last two years.
While improvement has been observed in some areas, some challenges still remain such as low vaccination rate, and compliance to COVID-19 protocols to mention a few.
Since the first case of COVID-19 in Nigeria, the country has witnessed about four waves of the pandemic with spike in cases as well decreased daily infections in between in the last two years.
The country has also battled variants of the disease, delivery of vaccines and roll out of COVID-19 vaccination.
Since the index case, the number of confirmed cases in the country has grown to 254, 461 cases, as of Friday.
Out of the number, 248,863 cases have been discharged and 3,142 deaths recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The country rolled out COVID-19 vaccination in April 2021 with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccination which was structured in phases continued thereafter with the moderna, and Pfizer Bio-N-Tech vaccines.
While there was vaccine hesitancy amongst the populace, the commencement of mass vaccination campaigns led to more people getting vaccinated.
The federal government also made vaccination mandatory for its workers.
There were also launch of booster doses and commencement of single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccination for hard-to-reach areas, as well as integration of COVID-19 vaccination with routine immunization.
As of 18th February, Nigeria has administered over 20 million doses, representing over 18 percent of the 111, 176, 503 eligible population targeted for COVID-19 vaccination.
This is however low compared to the 70 percent needed to achieve herd immunity in the country.
Variants of COVID-19
Just like other countries of the world, Nigeria has experienced different variants of the COVID-19 virus. The dominant ones are the Delta and Omicron variants. These variants left in their wake spike in cases, deaths and also spurred the different waves of the pandemic witnessed in the country.
COVID-19 safety protocols
COVID-19 preventive measures were instituted since the early days of the pandemic in the country but till date, compliance to measures such as physical distancing and facemasks have not been optimal.
Asked his assessment of the COVID-19 situation and response in the last two years, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, a renowned virologist and past president Nigerian Academy of Science, said “We managed to survive, not because of what we did, but because the virus did the unexpected in Nigeria.
“Out of global monumental ignorance of the virus, it was expected to decimate Africa, while Europe coped. But the reverse was the case, and we took the credit, instead of the virus.”
Dr Chinwe Ochu, Director, Prevention Programmes and Knowledge Management of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), said Nigeria has come a long way since the detection of the first case of COVID-19 in the country.
She said, “We have grown our capacity as a country in the detection of diseases by building more molecular laboratories; growing from four molecular laboratories to now over 150 molecular laboratories in the country.
“We have also expanded our disease surveillance system by digitalizing surveillance through an application called Surveillance Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System (SORMAS).
“This has allowed us to do real time reporting of infectious diseases, aiding the early detection of infectious diseases and supporting our response.
“We have also built human capacity across various areas. We now have rapid responders who are better equipped to respond to outbreak of infectious diseases. We have also learnt lessons, collaborated, and shown that health is everybody’s business, and that effective response has to be multi-sectoral.”
Ochu, who is also the head of research NCDC, said the country has learnt lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and is better prepared for the next pandemic. She advised Nigerians to continue to comply with preventive measures.
“Even though the country has not recorded very large number of cases like some countries, it is risky not to comply to the measures for a lot of reasons such as the emergence of new variants of concern.
“No matter what stage we find ourselves during this pandemic, it is important that we continue to adhere to preventive protocols and also get vaccinated.
“Thank God we have vaccines available. We should get vaccinated. Vaccines are safe and protect against severe diseases.
“We want to be able to vaccinate a good proportion of our people. That will give us the herd immunity that will protect us. It is also key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic as soon possible. So, the more people we are able to vaccinate, the earlier we are out of this pandemic.”