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As Covid-19 Surges… Government Introduces Tight Measures

His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio

It has come out clearly that Sierra Leone is struggling to contain the viciously new wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, following the rapid increase in cases and the shortage of hospital beds to accommodate patients.

The enormous rise in cases in the Western Area has prompted the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Centre (NaCOVERC) to propose a series of measures to the Presidential Task Force for endorsement and the President has endorsed some of those measures.

Last night, in a Broadcast to the Nation, President Julius Maada Bio announced a nationwide curfew for one month effective Monday 5th July 2021, from 11 pm to 5 am daily.  He also suspended congregational worship in churches, mosques, and other religious places for one month, effective Friday 2nd July. The president said restaurants and bars were encouraged to use takeaway services and ordered to close at 9 pm daily.

The President also announced that attendance at funerals, weddings, and other social events must be limited to no more than fifty persons. NaCOVERC will enforce all of these measures strictly, he warned.

Last week, NaCOVERC spokesperson, Solomon Jamiru informed the public that the government had found out that the Delta variant of the coronavirus was now in the country, which many believed is the cause for the rapid increase in cases.

This variant surging across Africa, creating fears among epidemiologists and political leaders of a looming public-health disaster that could echo the tragedy that unfolded in India in the spring.

The speed of the spread of this variant, which was first identified in India and is forcing governments around the globe to tighten restrictions on social and economic activities, has shocked health experts in Africa including Sierra Leone.

“Delta is the most transmissible of the variants identified so far,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Friday last Friday.

The virus carries a cluster of mutations, including one known as L452R, which helps it infect human cells more easily.

“We learned this virus, a variant of Covid is highly transmissible — the most transmissible we’ve seen to date,” US Surgeon-General Dr Vivek Murthy told CNN Wednesday.

WHO officials have said there were reports that the delta variant also causes more severe symptoms, but that more research is needed to confirm those conclusions. Still, there are signs the delta strain could provoke different symptoms than other variants.

Mutations in the Delta variant make it replicate faster and evade the body’s immunity mechanism. According to WHO, it is the ‘fastest and fittest’ variant yet. 

Delta, also known as B.1.617.2, belongs to a viral lineage first identified in India during a ferocious wave of infections there in April and May. The lineage grew rapidly in some parts of the country and showed signs of partial resistance to vaccines. But it was difficult for researchers to disentangle these intrinsic properties of the variant from other factors driving India’s confirmed cases past 400,000 per day, such as mass gatherings.

Delta is moderately resistant to vaccines, particularly in people who have received just a single dose. A Public Health England study published on 22 May found that a single dose of either AstraZeneca’s or Pfizer’s vaccine reduced a person’s risk of developing COVID-19 symptoms caused by the Delta variant by 33%, compared to 50% for the Alpha variant. A second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine boosted protection against Delta to 60% (compared to 66% against Alpha), while two doses of Pfizer’s jab were 88% effective (compared to 93% against Alpha).

Preliminary evidence from England and Scotland suggests that people infected with Delta are about twice as likely to end up in a hospital, compared with those infected with Alpha.

Delta poses the biggest risk, scientists say, to countries that have limited access to vaccines, particularly those in Africa, where most nations have vaccinated less than 5% of their populations.

Several sequences of the variant have been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an outbreak in the capital city of Kinshasa has filled hospitals. The variant has also been detected in Malawi, Uganda and South Africa.

Countries that have close economic links to India, such as those in East Africa, are probably at the greatest risk of seeing a surge in cases caused by Delta, says Tulio de Oliveira, a bioinformatician and director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform in Durban, South Africa.

In South Africa, all of the Delta cases have been detected in shipping crews at commercial ports, with no signs yet of spread in the general community.

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