Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), a communicable respiratory disease that originated in Wuhan, China, in 2019, shut down the global economy by issuing several safety measures and travel advisories by different countries.
In Nigeria, measures like the lockdown of non-essential activities, closure of schools, and a ban on international flights, amongst many others, were implemented to curb the spread of the disease.
Two years later, in December 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the relaxation of Nigeria’s safety measures and travel advisories following the recommendations of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 (PSC).
Based on Clinical and Laboratory evidence of a sustained reduction in COVID-19 infection/transmission across the country, this recommendation was perceived by many to mean COVID is gone or has died a natural death.
But is COVID-19 gone? What is the current status of COVID infections amid the widespread belief in Nigeria that COVID died a natural death?
As of Tuesday, April 26, 2023, there were 764,474,387 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 6,915,286 deaths globally. In Nigeria, there are 266,675 total confirmed cases, 3,567 active cases, 3,115 death and 259,953 discharged cases of deaths so far.
NCDC still has a multi-sectoral national emergency operations centre (EOC), activated at Level 2, that continues coordinating the national response activities for COVID-19 in Nigeria, giving every cause for concern among healthcare institutions.
The World Health Organization (WHO), in its April 27 update, noted that nearly 2.8 million new cases and over 16,000 deaths were reported in the last 28 days (27 March to 23 April 2023). This new statistic is a decrease of 23% and 36%, respectively, compared to the previous 28 days (27 February to 26 March 2023).
The WHO, however, noted that contrary to the overall downward trend, increases in reported cases and deaths continue to be seen in the South-East Asia and Eastern Mediterranean regions and in countries elsewhere.
Following this, the WHO, in its statement on May 5, 2023, noted that COVID-19 is now an established and ongoing health issue. Hence, it no longer constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). It, however, made the following recommendations to state actors:
- Sustain national capacity gains and prepare for future events.
- Integrate the COVID-19 vaccination programme into social life.
- Bring together information from diverse respiratory pathogen surveillance data sources for comprehensive situational awareness.
- Prepare for medical countermeasures to be authorised within national regulatory frameworks to ensure long-term availability and supply.
- Continue working with communities and urging their leaders to achieve strong, resilient, inclusive risk communications, community engagement (RCCE), and infodemic management programmes.
- Continue to lift COVID-19 international travel-related health measures based on risk assessments.
- Continue to support research.
Following this announcement by the WHO, the NCDC released a statement noting there is still a risk of variants emerging as infection and transmission continues within communities. The Centre, therefore, noted COVID-19 vaccination and recommended discretionary use of face masks and other public health safety measures according to personal risk assessments should continue.
“The declaration that COVID-19 is no longer PHEIC is to enable countries’ transition from acute emergency response to managing COVID-19 as part of integrated healthcare delivery for all infectious diseases. The threat of the virus remains within countries and globally, particularly for high-risk groups. As transmission continues within communities, the risk of new variants emerging and resulting in surges in case numbers and even deaths remains.”
Despite this news which many might use to emphasise that “COVID-19 died a natural death” theory, we must be cautious because, as highlighted by the Federal Ministry of Health, COVID-19 and Malaria have similar symptoms but are caused by different agents. The major difference between COVID-19 and malaria is that while COVID-19 can spread from person to person, malaria cannot, so getting vaccinated and practising good hygiene is important.
There are several COVID-19 vaccines validated for use by WHO, and in Nigeria, vaccination is ongoing.
According to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency ( NPHCDA), as of April 30 2023, across the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), 73 million out of the total eligible persons targeted for COVID-19 vaccination have been fully vaccinated while 11 million are partially vaccinated.
Although the WHO has cleared COVID-19 as no longer a Public Health Emergency of International concern, it is still vital to be cautious about sticking to the guidelines of national health institutions and recommendations of the World Health Organisation.