Deadly COVID-19 variant: Scrutinise airlines conveying passengers from India, Tomori tells FG

Eminent virologist and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, has urged the Federal Government and aviation agencies to scrutinise airlines conveying passengers from India to prevent the spread of a deadly COVID-19 strain from the country to Nigeria.

India is currently witnessing what has been described as a devastating second wave of COVID-19 with confirmed cases and deaths increasing in the past weeks.

The country is said to recording more than a quarter million cases per day.

One of the new variants circulating in India is referred to as the “double mutant” though it is officially called B.1.617.

With many Indians in Nigeria and the fact that the index case of the virus in the country was an Italian, there are concerns that the Indian strain may find its way into Nigeria if proper control measures are not put in place.

Speaking with The PUNCH, Tomori recalled that this was the challenge during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria in 2020, when Nigeria could not ban flights from China which was the epicentre of the pandemic.

The former Vice Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, however, said airlines that convey passengers indirectly from India to Nigeria must be closely monitored.

Tomori said any attempt by the government to ban persons coming from India would not be productive, adding that Nigeria must focus more on testing and monitoring.

The virologist stated, “We don’t have direct flights from India but there are people that come in through other cities. I know that Ethiopian Airlines goes to India and they bring passengers from India through Addis Ababa to Nigeria. So, with the problem in India, I think it will be good to monitor people coming from there.

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“You must be proactive to study the routes through which people come from India. We should have an idea of the main route through which people come from India and other information. You cannot just place a ban. So, we need home-grown information on the airlines they use and the number that usually come in.

“The Presidential Steering Committee must look into this. We need proper targeting.”

Tomori also noted that there was a need for states to do more in monitoring, adding that statistics from the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control in recent time showed that some states now test just one sample in a day.

This, he said, was not adequate and was giving the country inaccurate statistics on the rate of infection.

“Some states are testing only one sample in a week. Sometimes only five to eight states send their information to the NCDC. This is why some believe the infection is dropping when in actual fact we are not doing enough testing,” Tomori stated.

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