After weeks of steady decline in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases, Nigeria is now responding to what authorities are describing as a “likely third wave” of the pandemic, led by the more contagious Delta variant. But Chikwe Ihekweazu, the man at the centre of Nigeria’s Covid-19 response, tells The Africa Report that there is greater risk of a surge in infections as more people disregard the public health measures in place.
Against a backdrop of nationwide vaccination and testing campaigns that targeted hard-to-reach areas, Nigeria was able to keep the rate of Covid-19 infections under control until the start of July, when things gradually began to change.
Official data analysed by The Africa Report showed that after the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced on 8 July that it had detected the highly infectious Delta variant, 1,866 cases were confirmed in the two weeks that followed: a 154% increase from the 735 infections recorded within the same period before the announcement.
What’s more, much of the increase was reported in the commercial capital Lagos.
We still have a window of opportunity to prevent this surge, but this requires personal and collective responsibility
“Nigeria, like other countries across the world, is at risk of a surge in Covid-19 cases, given the detection of the Delta variant,” Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, director-general of the NCDC, tells The Africa Report. He is worried that “the risk of a surge in cases is higher as more people disregard the public health and social measures in place.”
“Given the evidence that the Delta variant spreads faster, it is even more important to adhere to these measures,” he says. “We still have a window of opportunity to prevent this surge, but this requires personal and collective responsibility.”
Following the surge, the nation’s capital and six states were placed on ‘red alert’ by a presidential committee on Covid-19 that announced stiffer measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.
But long before that, much of the attention had been on Lagos, where news of the potential third wave was first announced, and where the rate of positive tests went up from 1.1% at the end of June 2021 to 6.6% by 8 July.
“People are acting like the pandemic is over, but the bigger problem is that the government is not doing enough to compel obedience of measures in place,” says Chuks Ufoma, a Lagos-based medical practitioner.
After five months of vaccinating citizens against Covid-19, Nigeria exhausted the four million doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine received from the COVAX initiative. This means less than 2% of the 112 million eligible population got the vaccine, health minister Osagie Ehanire announced at WHO meeting attended by The Africa Report on 22 July.
Ehanire lamented that there were other challenges that hampered the vaccination process. “Politics and religion very often lead people to ignore the public health advice in place,” he said of Africa’s most populous nation, where some prominent politicians and religious leaders have led a campaign against Covid-19 vaccination.
COVID-19 is becoming “a pandemic among the unvaccinated,” chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN. With around half of the population still to be fully vaccinated, the U.S.’s role of being a world leader in vaccine rollout has fallen away, with fewer than half of people in some southern states having received their first doses. That share now lags behind Canada, the U.K., Italy and Germany but it still far exceeds Japan.