Director of the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens, Prof Gordon Awandare, has called for regular COVID-19 testing at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) to prevent the importation of the new Omicron variant into the country.
Speaking to Benjamin Akakpo on Prime Morning, on Monday, he said the new variant has a new range of mutations that exceeds what has been experienced by the country, therefore the need to beef up testing at the KIA to avert a new wave.
Prof Awandare stated that the emergence of the South African Omicron variant is worrying because it would demand vigorous sequencing to trace its transmission patterns.
“The fact that the numbers are increasing rapidly suggests that it has a growth advantage; in other words, it replicates better or faster than the existing virus that is why it is able to increase in cases in a short time.
“I think the testing on arrival is a very important chow in our cake. And our work over the last years shows that the testing at the Airport has reduced the influx of new variants. So we have to make sure that, that is being done meticulously so that we catch people who are infected at the Airport and isolate them appropriately,” he said
The Parasitologist explained that the efficiency of available vaccines may be ineffective in fighting the new variant because it has mutations that are different from the original strain of the virus.
“Vaccines were made with a certain blueprint which was the original strain of the virus, so now as you have other viruses with accumulating number of mutations around the spike protein, what that means is that the protein may change sufficiently that it is able to invade antibodies that our bodies have made and this could be a challenge because that will mean that the vaccine effectiveness will reduce.
“Also, the fact that the numbers are increasing rapidly suggests that it has a growth advantage; in other words, it replicates better or faster than the existing virus that is why it is able to increase in cases in a short time,” Prof Awandare added.
He said there is the need for Ghanaians to continue to observe the relevant COVID-19 safety protocols involving social distancing, the wearing of face masks and the washing of hands, amongst others.
According to Prof Awandare, it is good to take early precaution “but I also don’t think we should overly react.”
He wants Senior High School students to be inoculated before they resume their academic work.
“We have to go back to following the protocols. It seems that in Ghana whenever the cases go down, we all drop our guard and we start living life as post-COVID. This has reminded us that COVID is not gone and it’s not going anywhere soon.”
Meanwhile, the Director General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, has assured that Ghana has not recorded the Omicron variant of the COVID-19.
Addressing the press on Sunday, November 28, he explained that based on recent tests and sequencing at the Kotoka International Airport, there’s no evidence to suggest that the new variant has found its way into the country.
The Ghana Health Service intimated that during the upcoming Yuletide festivities, it would be required of all citizens to provide proof of their vaccination before they’re allowed entry into public places and gatherings.
“Omicron; we have not identified one in Ghana. All people who have tested positive at the Airport are sequenced, their samples are sequenced. We also pick samples from our reference labs across the country, to do sequencing.”
Currently, they have a bunch of about a hundred and sixty which they’re working on now, but there’s been no indication of Omicron in Ghana. So all those messages flying around, it’s not true. There’s no case in Ghana,” Dr Kuma-Aboagye revealed.