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WHO advises face masks to combat new COVID surge

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The World Health Organisation has recommended the use of facemasks by the public in specific situations.

The WHO issued the update given the current spread of COVID-19 globally.

The agency notes that masks are recommended following recent exposure to COVID-19, when someone has or suspects they have COVID-19, when someone is at high risk of severe COVID-19, and for anyone in a crowded, enclosed, or poorly ventilated space.

This is as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed 42 new cases of the virus in the country in last two weeks. Since the index case in February 2020, Nigeria has recorded 266,492 COVID-19 cases, including 3,155 deaths. But 259,858 patients were discharged within the period.

As of 13th January, there have been 661,545,258 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 6,700,519 deaths, reported to WHO.

In a new release by the WHO, it said, “Previously, the WHO recommendations were based on the epidemiological situation.

“Similar to previous recommendations, WHO advises that there are other instances when a mask may be suggested, based on a risk assessment. Factors to consider include the local epidemiological trends or rising hospitalization levels, levels of vaccination coverage and immunity in the community, and the setting people find themselves in”.

The WHO also advised that a COVID-19 patient could be discharged from isolation early if they tested negative on an antigen-based rapid test.

“Without testing, for patients with symptoms, the new guidelines suggest 10 days of isolation from the date of symptom onset. Previously, WHO advised that patients be discharged 10 days after symptom onset, plus at least three additional days since their symptoms had resolved.

“For those who test positive for COVID-19 but do not have any signs or symptoms, WHO now suggests five days of isolation in the absence of testing, compared to 10 days previously.

“Isolation of people with COVID-19 is an important step in preventing others from being infected. This can be done at home or at a dedicated facility, such as a hospital or clinic”, the global agency noted.

The evidence considered by the organisation showed that people without symptoms were much less likely to transmit the virus than those with symptoms.

“Although of very low certainty, evidence also showed that people with symptoms discharged at day five following symptom onset risked infecting three times more people than those discharged at day 10″.

The WHO also extended its strong recommendation for the use of nirmatrelvir-ritonavir (also known by its brand name ‘Paxlovid’).

It, however, said pregnant or breastfeeding women with non-severe COVID-19 should consult with their doctor to determine whether they should take the drug, due to ‘likely benefits’ and a lack of adverse events having been reported.

“Nirmatrelvir-ritonavir was first recommended by WHO in April 2022. WHO strongly recommends its use in mild or moderate COVID-19 patients who are at high risk of hospitalisation. In December 2022, the first generic producer of the drug was prequalified by WHO.

“WHO also reviewed the evidence on two other medicines, sotrovimab, and casirivimab-imdevimab, and maintains strong recommendations against their use for treating COVID-19. These monoclonal antibody medicines lack or have diminished activity against the current circulating virus variants.

“There are currently six proven treatment options for patients with COVID-19, three that prevent hospitalisation in high-risk persons and three that save lives in those with severe or critical disease. Except for corticosteroids, access to other drugs remains unsatisfactory globally”, the UN body stated.

But as the concerns rises across the world with least 23 countries imposing restrictions on travellers from China, the Nigerian government has insisted it will not adopt that strategy, at least for now.

The Coordinator and Technical Head of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Dr Muktar Muhammad however told The PUNCH in Abuja on Sunday that the government has raised the surveillance level in the country.

China’s decision to relax its strict COVID-19 rules to curb the virus and lack of transparency has been greeted with some anxiety in many countries.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that China had 24,565 new cases on 13th January with 10,855,369 confirmed cases and 33,698 deaths.

However, Muhammad said that countries imposing restrictions on China are doing so without a scientific basis as available data shows that cases are increasing worldwide.

He said: “For us, what we are doing now is to try to raise our surveillance level to be able to understand what kind of viruses are coming in, to continue to do our genomic sequencing to identify the variants that are coming into Nigeria so that we will have credible intelligence on what we need to do”.

He said that the government has intensified surveillance at sentinel points to monitor the situation in the country.

Muhammad added: “We believe what is happening is not more than a seasonal increase in upper respiratory tract infections, including COVID-19, and we are monitoring the various variants circulating in the world”.

Nigeria’s fresh 42 cases of the virus were recorded in Lagos, Edo, Kano, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Plateau States as well as the Federal Capital Territory between 31st December last year and 13th January.

That brought the nation’s confirmed COVID-19 infections to 266,492, according to the NCDC.

The centre said: “From 31st December 2022, to 6th January 2023, 13 new confirmed cases were recorded in Nigeria.

“The 13 new cases are reported from two states – Lagos (12) and Edo (one)”.

The NCDC also said that from 7th January to 13th January, 29 new confirmed cases were recorded in the country.

“The 29 new cases are reported from six states- Lagos (15), FCT (5), Kano (four), Nasarawa (three), Kaduna (one), and Plateau (one).

“A multi-sectoral national Emergency Operations Centre activated at Level 2, continues to coordinate the national response activities”.

The WHO has however said that it is analysing the COVID-19 situation data provided to it by China.

In a press statement, the global agency said that Chinese officials provided information to it on a range of topics, including outpatient clinics, hospitalisations, patients requiring emergency treatment and critical care, and hospital deaths related to COVID-19 infection.

“WHO is analysing this information, which covers early December 2022 to January 12, 2023, and allows for a better understanding of the epidemiological situation and the impact of this wave in China. WHO requested that this type of detailed information continue to be shared with us and the public”, the statement read.

A virologist at the Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, Dr Oladipo Kolawole said there should be a concern about flights coming from China and the government should put necessary measures in place at both the NCDC travel portal and points of entry to the country.

He said: “I think we require a negative COVID-19 test from the passengers coming from such region if not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if the government deem fits, they should not be banned for now like other countries that have done that.

Also, a medical laboratory scientist at the Department of Microbiology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State, Obinna Chukwudi, urged the government to quarantine travellers from China to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“We can’t always wait till things get bad before strengthening our health system to abate future pandemics or epidemics. The government must invest and finance the health institutions to better great ready”, he said.

Credit: The PUNCH

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