By Sola Ogundipe
The Federal Government is investigating claims by Nigerian scientists that the mutant coronavirus recently discovered in the United Kingdom, UK, has been existing in Nigeria for several months.
The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, who disclosed this, said PTF is in touch with scientists at the Redeemer’s University, Nigeria, in Ede, Osun State, who conducted studies that discovered the UK’s “lineage B.1.1.7” mutant variant of the coronavirus.
Aliyu said Professor Christian Happi, a professor of Molecular Biology & Genomics, and another scientist, Ify Aniebo, both of the African Centre of Excellence for the Genomics of Infectious Diseases, Redeemer’s University, Nigeria, reported the collection of samples from Osun State in August and October, both of which showed the presence of the new variant.
“We have reached out to Professor Happi to seek additional clarifications with regards to this and we are also talking to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.
“What is really vital at this stage is to immediately do sequencing. I know the sequencing that Professor Happi’s group has done in the past involved about 250 samples, so that’s really low.
“What we need to do, and most of the things he did, were in August or September. So we are much much further down the line now and what we need to do is to make sure that we sequence as many outlets as we have now,” Aliyu said.
Allaying fears over the development, the PTF Coordinator stated that it was not unusual that coronavirus strains replicate very quickly even as he pointed out that the new UK variant is now found in other countries.
“Just to allay public anxiety, the strain that has been described in the UK and also now in South Africa and in Australia and in some other countries; what has been shown is that it is more transmissible.
“But there’s no human epidemiological link that suggests that it is more deadly at the moment and certainly, with coronaviruses, they always tend to change. That’s why if you catch a common cold for instance and you get better, the next day if you see someone with a cold, you are just as likely to go down with it.
“They are strains that continue to replicate very quickly. So it’s no surprise that we have a new strain that is being described at the moment. But it’s still early days yet in terms of science and even within the UK, there’s still a lot of debate as to how different it is from previous strains.
“We are not trying to say we should ignore the problem. We had a very long discussion yesterday at the PTF; a debate that lasted well over an hour with different aspects being looked at and we’ll continue to monitor this very closely.
“We’ve already asked Professor Happy to provide us with additional clarification because they’ve been working for the NCDC as well,” he noted.