By; MATTHEW UKACHUNWA, Lagos
Lagos State government said its biobank recorded the highest numbers of daily infections of Novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during December festive season.
The state’s Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, disclosed this while confirming the fulfillment of the state’s prediction that the pandemic would rise during the period. “Due to the apparent increased contagiousness of the Omicron variant and the anticipated increase in the numbers of inbound international travelers for Christmas and the New year, Lagos State predicted a fourth wave over this festive season.
“It is important to note that indeed this did happen and Lagos State biobank recorded the highest numbers of daily infections in the early part of the fourth wave since the beginning of the pandemic, which is supportive of the fact that the Omicron subtype is a more infectious variant,” Abayomi said.
The fourth wave, he said, started as expected around the beginning of December, “coinciding with the influx of inbound travelers into Lagos, some of whom we have established were carrying the omicron variant.”
According to the health commissioner, there was a significant increase in case positivity from one per cent on the 1st of December to 29 per cent as at 21st of December 2021 as the highly infectious variant started spreading quickly in community with a steep unrelenting upward projection.
He noted that the State has recognized a typical pattern that triggered all the preceding three waves.
He declared that the pattern is related to three things: In the first place was the seasons when there was increased movement of inbound travelers into Lagos such as Christmas and Summer vacation,
The second instance was the on-going waves in Europe, America and South Africa where most of travelers into Lagos emanate from.
And the third instance was the non-compliance with Lagos State and Federal COVID guidelines.
“In particular, Lagos State has noticed that failure of airline passengers to observe the mandatory post arrival testing and isolation always results in importation of variants which then start spreading in community and was the trigger of all preceding 3 waves to date.
“In the same light, Lagos State recognized the same pattern in November and December of this year where majority of inbound travelers were not turning up for their Day Two and Day Seven COVID PCR tests and this would be the most likely source of the entry of the variant and the catalyst of the fourth wave, Abayomi elaborated.
He explained that in response to that civil disobedience of the citizens, on the 14th of December Lagos State publicly announced the activation of the mobile court for defaulters of mandatory COVID testing for arriving travelers, peddlers of fake certificates and persons refusing to isolate.
He enumerated the possible list of sanctionable offences as follows:Not turning up for the Day Two test on arrival in Lagos if fully vaccinated; not turning up for Day Two and Day Seven test plus not self-isolating for seven days for unvaccinated persons on arrival in Lagos, and not self-isolating for persons who were diagnosed positive under any circumstances.
Other sanctionable offences include being in possession of any fake COVID-related documents either PCR tests or Vaccination cards,
entering false data and contact numbers on the travel health form such that we cannot reach you on your arrival in Lagos, as well as
evading testing on arrival in Lagos by disguising as a child or a diplomat.
Other sanctionable offences involved corporate entities that undermine the State COVID mitigation strategies and travel agents that assist passengers evade the travel guidelines also attracts harsh sanctions
“The announcement and activation of the prosecution of defaulters by mobile courts resulted in a sudden trend in travelers complying with the requisite Day Two and Day Seven testing, isolation protocols and other guidelines, causing an almost doubling of our testing volumes per day,” the health commissioner pointed out.
He described the development asa very encouraging one, stressing: “The more test the better we can prevent community transmission.”
He emphasized that many more positive inbound travelers were identified, and many more persons observed the isolation protocols resulting in better control of importation and spread into and within the community.
In a document titled: “Update on Lagos COVID-19 Response,” dated 31st December 2021, the health specialist said: “Our analysis of recent data shows a significant reduction in positivity rates from 29% on the 21st of December to 15% as at 28th of December 2021. The Lagos State Incident Command System attributes this flattening of the curve and current decline in COVID-19 positive cases in the State to effective implementation of fourth wave mitigation strategies; particularly the with introduction of sanctions which has caused more compliance with testing and identification of positive cases.”
He stated that the activation of sanctions consequently led to sudden compliance to guidelines which has averted the continuous steep upward surge of the fourth wave of infections in Lagos State.
According to him, that compliance has protected the health system from being overburdened, saved lives, and reduced the appetite for government to restrict social activities. “In addition, more passengers are being monitored through our EKOTELEMED service,” he highlighted.
The commissioner said that the government is determined to halt the alarming trend of defaulters whose actions were responsible for previous waves of the pandemic in Lagos State.
“We have commenced communicating with 6,500 inbound passengers who are suspected of not being compliant with our guidelines established to protect the community, lives and our economy.
“Short message service (SMS) have been dispatched to suspected defaulters in the month of December. A dedicated customer care line and personnel was also deployed to call these suspected defaulters. We have also created a dedicated email address to reach defaulters. Subsequently, about 1,000 emails and over 2,000 calls have been received from suspected defaulting passengers. To date, 432 suspected defaulters have been cleared after investigation, and 81 confirmed defaulters have been sanctioned and fined by the mobile courts and the process continues until we clear the backlog.
“This process is executed strictly without prejudice, and nobody is exempted. Disregarding the testing and isolation guidelines inevitably introduces new variants of COVID-19 and constitute a State and National public health and security threat which will sabotage all efforts to mitigate and reduce the impact of the fourth wave on citizens and the economy of the State and Country. We have started submitting the names of those that do not respond to the SMS or Emails to the Presidential Steering Committee for the deactivation of their passports for a period of one year,” Abayomi narrated.
He advised residents, particularly inbound passengers coming into Lagos and Nigeria, to adhere strictly to COVID19 protocols and guidelines including isolation, testing and vaccination guidelines to support the government in sustaining the flattening of the fourth wave of infection in the state.