Kaduna state Commissioner of Health, Dr AMINA MOHAMMED BALONI, has warned that citizens should religiously adhere to the Covid-19 prevention protocols because the Delta variant is more infectious. In this interview, she also disclosed how Kaduna state is preparing for the coming emergency.
Reports indicate that a third wave of Covid-19 pandemic is already in the country, what is Kaduna State Government doing to contain or mitigate the spread?
We are anticipating the third wave of the pandemic like you said. The country has detected the Delta variant of the virus which is highly infectious. We have seen some states that have already had the virus but fortunately, Kaduna is not one of them as for now. But we are watching the situation carefully. We are prepared, we are taking all measures that we think can stop this wave or manage it as best as we can. We are monitoring the points of entry like the motor parks, airports and train stations and screening passengers for fever and respiratory symptoms. We are also stepping up our awareness campaign, reminding people to wear masks in public, avoid crowds and observe hand hygiene.
Over the months, people have lowered their guard regarding the Covid-19 safety protocol; no more social distancing, people wear their face masks on their chins and so on. What is government doing to reactivate the FORWARD campaign?
It is true that we noticed that people have let down their guard and this is occasioned by two things; one is fatigue, this pandemic has been going on for more than a year now. And from our daily updates, people have noticed that our infection rates are low and so, they think that the pandemic is no longer a threat. Some people have been vaccinated, although not enough people have been vaccinated. So, all these together with the fact that behavioral change is very difficult, make people to lower their guard. But the government has always called on people to continue observing the public health protocol – masking, physical distancing, hand washing with soap and running water/sanitizing, avoiding crowds and all the principles of the FORWARD campaign. But it is obvious that we have to put in more efforts to make them adhere to these protocols. But the wearing of masks in public places is still being enforced. Do not forget, the Quarantine Act is still in place even though the lockdown has been eased.
Like you said, some residents have been vaccinated but do they also stand the risk of being infected by the virus?
So far, what we know about the vaccine is that it protects you from severe disease, hospitalization and even death. Some people, after being vaccinated, develop sufficient immunity that will prevent them from getting infected. But some people may get the infection although they will not be very ill. Certain people also will carry the virus; they will not get sick but they can transmit the virus and these are the most dangerous because they have no symptoms and they will be mingling normally with people which poses a danger to the population especially the vulnerable!
Which age demographic or group of people constitute this vulnerable group of people?
Vulnerable people are the elderly who are above 70 years. Or above 60 in some cases. Or people that have chronic illnesses like hypertension and diabetes or people who have immunosuppressive diseases that suppress their immune systems, diseases like HIV. So, the immune system cannot fight the virus and so they are more likely to get severe disease when infected by the virus. So, these are the vulnerable people.
Can you explain what the Delta variant of Covid-19 is and how different is it from the normal virus that we are familiar with?
One of the properties of viruses is that they mutate all the time to adapt to their environment. We have had certain strains in Nigeria which were brought from outside the country, we also know that we are very mobile. So, people that have travelled to places like India and Turkey may have brought this variant. Going by the advisory, there is a restriction on people coming from the countries that have a high rate of the Delta variant infection to protect us.
It is called the Delta variant because it is different from the strain that we are used. It has mutated and changed form to become more infectious. The Delta variant spreads faster than the other variant and it causes more severe disease that is why we must be on our guard for it.
Is it correct to infer that people who have been vaccinated are immune from the Delta variant?
Studies that have been conducted show that the vaccine protects against the various strains in some people more than others. But the Delta variant is new. As you know, the vaccine has not been with us for up to a year. So, we keep studying and watching what is happening to different strains vis-à-vis the vaccine. What we know is the vaccine protects you from getting severe illness, hospitalization or even death of all the variants although the level of protection may vary.
Are the various isolation centres in the state adequately manned and equipped for emergencies if this third wave of the virus comes to Kaduna state?
You know that we had five isolation centres at the peak of the pandemic, and we have constructed a 136-bed isolation hospital. I’m glad to say that it is completed, and we have received the furniture and the equipment are being installed. It will soon be ready to receive patients. Before now, we have a 15-bed infectious diseases hospital. When the number of cases dropped, we temporarily closed the other centers except the Infectious Disease Control Center. The staff are carrying out their normal duties in other health facilities but they are on standby; as soon as we need them, we will reactivate the facilities. Apart from that, we are building five new isolation wards in some of our health facilities. One of them is in Gambo Sawaba General Hospital, another is at General Hospital Turunku and one is at General Hospital Zonkwa. We also have such wards in General Hospital Lere and another in Birnin Gwari. These wards are almost completed. We decided to build them to be better prepared to manage cases in their localities, we will no longer transport people from Birnin Gwari for example to Kaduna. Or from Lere to an isolation centre in Kaduna when the need arises. So, we have been preparing for emergencies even when we have no cases. We have equipment for these isolation wards, the staff are trained, they are experienced. And I’m happy to say that all our health workers have been vaccinated so they are protected, and they will be ready to deal with any challenge.
Traditional sallah celebrations which are usually marked by horse riding and other activities that attract large crowds, were cancelled this year. Is a complete lockdown imminent in Kaduna state?
Well, a lockdown is a necessary measure if we are confronted with a challenge and our health system and workers are in danger of being overwhelmed. Do not forget that the Quarantine Act is still in force, which means that we can invoke all its measures as the need arises. But we will be guided by science and not speculations. We are watching very closely the trend in cases. We are watching closely to ensure that people are abiding by the Covid-19 safety protocols. For now, we are not envisaging a lockdown, what we are trying to do at the Task Force on Covid-19, is to make people aware that there is a new challenge, the Delta variant. And that we should all take personal responsibility to check the spread of the virus, using the tenets of the FORWARD campaign and to make sure that we do not get the Delta variant in Kaduna state.
- On July 8, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) detected a confirmed case with the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, also known as lineage B.1.617.2;
- The variant was detected in a traveler to Nigeria, following the routine travel test required of all international travelers and genomic sequencing at the NCDC National Reference Laboratory, Abuja;
- The Delta variant is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a variant of concern, given its increased transmissibility and it has been detected in over 90 countries;
- It has also been linked to a surge in cases in countries where it is the dominant strain in circulation and there are ongoing studies to understand its impact on existing vaccines and therapeutics;
- As part of Nigeria’s COVID-19 response, NCDC has been working with the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), African Centre for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), and other laboratories within the national network;
- This collaboration is to enable the detection of variants of concern, and initiate response activities;
- Given the global risk of spread of the Delta variant, positive samples from international travelers to Nigeria are sequenced regularly;
- The Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) has initiated several measures to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19, including the introduction of travel restrictions from countries where there is a surge;
- The national travel protocol which includes compulsory seven-day self-isolation and repeat test on the seventh day after arrival, are in place to reduce the risk of spread of the virus;
- Given the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, NCDC urges all Nigerians to ensure strict adherence to public health and social measures in place;
- Proven public health and social measures such as physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and proper use of face masks, prevent infections and save lives;
- The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective and offers protection against the disease;
-The Director General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, noted that although the country has seen a low number of COVID-19 cases in the last eight weeks, it is important that Nigerians do not forget to be careful.