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Third wave hits harder as 35 Ogun corps members test positive, 18 in Niger

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New data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, showed that weekly COVID-19 deaths in Africa reached a record peak in the week that ended on August 1, marking the highest seven-day toll since the onset of the pandemic in the continent.

The data released during a virtual press conference facilitated by APO Group, showed over 6,400 deaths were recorded, a two per cent rise compared with the previous week, with South Africa and Tunisia accounting for over 55 per cent of the fatalities.

Death trends are on the rise in 15 countries, and 12 have reported higher case fatality rates than the African average of 2.5 per cent over the last month.

With more than 172,000 deaths, Africa accounts for over four per cent of the 4.2 million COVID-19-related deaths recorded globally to date.

New Vaccines Introduction Officer at WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe, said: “It is a sad day for Africa. Our hearts go out to everyone who has lost friends and loved ones. Deaths have peaked week-on-week on the continent and after a slight dip, COVID-19 cases are surging again. The latest data tells us that Africa is still on the crest of the third wave, still recording more cases than in any earlier peak and that we cannot take anything for granted.”

According to the WHO, COVID-19 cases rose by 19 per cent to over 278,000 in the week ending on August 1. South Africa accounted for 29 per cent of the cases, which remain close to Africa’s record high of 286,000 weekly cases recorded in early July.

Twenty-two African countries have seen cases rise by over 20 per cent for at least two weeks running. The highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 29 African countries, while the Alpha variant has been detected in 39 countries and the Beta variant in 35.

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In Nigeria, the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic has continued to ravage as the country on Wednesday night recorded four new deaths and 747 cases, ranking the highest daily infection figure in nearly six months. The last time the country confirmed cases above 747 was on February 18 when 877 cases were recorded.

According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the new infection figure has raised Nigeria’s total infection number to 176,011 while the fatality toll now stands at 2,167.

A breakdown of the NCDC data revealed that about a third of the daily infections in Nigeria on Wednesday was recorded in Lagos. The city, as the disease’ epicentre, reported 488 cases, while Akwa Ibom followed with 121 cases, and Oyo State ranked third with 29 cases. The NCDC added that Nigeria has tested over 2.5 million samples out of its estimated 200 million population.

With active cases in Nigeria jumping to 8,626, hospitals across the country will further be put under severe pressure as the ongoing strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) lingers. The doctors strike began on Monday and its biting consequences are already taking a toll on Nigerians.

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140 Days after, Nigeria loses N3bn on suspended Kaduna-Abuja train service

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The federal government has lost over N3 billion in revenue since it suspended Abuja-Kaduna train services in March, this year.

Besides, the businesses of hundreds of people who earn livelihood around the railway corridor have collapsed.

The stoppage of the service followed the March 28 attack on Kaduna-bound train which was bombed after explosives planted on the rail track by terrorists went off between the Dutse and Kakau areas of Kaduna State.

The train, which took off from the Idu Train Station in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) hit the explosives about 30 minutes from the Rigasa Train Station in Kaduna.

About 970 passengers were on board the train, out of which the terrorists killed some and abducted over 60 others.

Subsequently, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) announced the indefinite suspension of train service on the Abuja-Kaduna railway line.

Although a number of the passengers have been released after unspecified amounts were paid as ransom, some of them are still languishing in the kidnappers’ den.

Meanwhile, NRC recently reiterated that until all the passengers currently in the custody of the terrorists were released to their families, the Abuja-Kaduna train service would not resume.

N3.024bn ticket revenue lost so far

Checks have shown that for the past 140 days since the train service was suspended, NRC has lost about N3.024bn revenue, which could have been raked from ticket sales.

The coaches, which ply the Abuja-Kaduna rail line have the capacity to carry between 900 and 1,000 passengers per trip.

About eight trips were also recorded daily between Rigasa in Kaduna and Idu in Abuja.

An average economy ticket before the suspension sold between N2, 800 and N3,000 while VIP tickets sold for N6,000.

A breakdown of daily ticket sales shows that the NRC makes a minimum of N2.7m per trip at N3,000 a ticket for a train that has the capacity to carry 900 to 1,000 passengers.

Consequently, for the eight trips that the Abuja-Kaduna train does in a day, a total of about N21.6m is realised. Subsequently, this amounts to about N151.1m in seven days (one week).

As such, for the over four months that train services have been suspended, the federal government has lost nothing less than N600m monthly.

Some other services tied to the train services that have been crippled include shop owners at the train stations, especially Idu, Kubwa and Rigasa.

Some of these small businesses, which are unable to move to other locations outside of the train stations have sacked their staff.

“I closed my shop a day after the train was attacked,” said Halima Abubakar, a restaurateur at the Idu train station in Abuja.

“Everything has stopped…I asked my staff to go because I am unable to find another place,” she said.

The booming taxi services and pool buses have also been crippled.

Ambrose Alex, a taxi driver at the Idu station called on the government to do the needful.

“We have all been displaced with the closure of the train service. I took a loan to buy my car and was operating from the station. Things are really tough now because some of us are only doing town service instead of shuttle service, which brings more money,” he said.

It was learnt that the NRC is also losing out on rental fees as these businesses will have to be either refunded or be allocated the exact months they have lost since the facility was shut down.

Another significant loss is to the ticketing firm, SevureID Solutions, which got the concession at N900m to operate for 10 years.

Because they are no longer earning on the train service, they may be forced to lay off their staff. They may also have to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

Commenting, Dr Frank Ojiadi, a faculty member at Lagos Business School, and an expert in transportation and logistics, said the continued shutdown of the train service was not only a loss to the government but to citizens who had built an economy around the train corridor.

He said while the risks associated with aviation were there, different from rail transportation, it is unlikely the aviation industry would be shut down for “This long in an event of a terror attack because of many factors.”

He said with the robust insurance packages in aviation and the critical nature of aviation to a country’s economy, the airport won’t remain shut down in perpetuity because of a terror attack.

He advised NRC to ensure its trains across the country are insured.

He explained further that the impacts of the sustained shutdown of the rail service were not economic and social.

On the economic impact, he said the government would lose huge revenues as NRC suffered downtime since no train was running that route. He also said the facilities (tracks and trains) might deteriorate with non-usage.

He noted that “The equipment not being utilised might lead to depreciation. Also, the roads will be pressured more with more usage. The train took so many vehicles off the road.”

He added that more people would be exposed to attacks by terrorists and bandits on the Abuja-Kaduna highway.

On the social impact, he said the train had opened up business activities in the corridor by the locals, especially around the train stations.

He advised that even when the train resumed, it must not run at night as the risks were higher then.

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Priest, seminarian abducted near military checkpoint, N50m demanded

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Gunmen have kidnapped the Deputy Registrar of Spiritan University, Nneochi, Fr Chinedu Nwadike.

Nwadike, a Catholic priest, was kidnapped on Friday on the Enugu-Okigwe Road.

The priest was abducted alongside a seminarian, Emmanuel Nwafor.

It was gathered on Sunday that their abductors had established contact with their relations and demanded a ransom of N50m.

A family source said, “Rev. Fr. Dr. Chinedu Nwadike from Umuezeanoruo Eziama, Nkwerre LGA, Imo State, and a young seminarian, Emmanuel Nwafor, were on Friday kidnapped on their way to Enugu State, Umunnochi axis, along Enugu-Okigwe Road.

“Both are members of the Holy Ghost congregation missionaries, living their lives of sacrifice and selflessness in service to a better society.”

Another source said it was the second time the priest would be attacked by kidnappers.

“In the first attempt, they shot directly at him but he managed to escape. This time, they succeeded and are said to be demanding a ransom of N50m. Curiously, a military checkpoint is around the place,” the source added.

The priest’s younger brother, Chikezie, said the family was praying for the safe return of his younger brother and the seminarian.

The Director, Catholic Communication, Enugu Catholic Diocese, Very Rev. Fr. Benjamin Achi, confirmed the incident.

Although he did not provide details, he simply said, “Yes, father was kidnapped.”

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Monkeypox spreads to 27 states, cases hit 172

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has confirmed the number of monkeypox cases has risen to 172 in the country.

The centre’s Week 31 reports indicated the spread has reached 27 states since January.

From January 1 to August 7, 2022, NCDC said four deaths were recorded from four states – Delta (1), Lagos (1), Ondo (1), and Akwa Ibom (1).

The report also showed that there were at least 473 suspected cases of the disease in the country.

The report read in part, “60 new suspected cases were reported in Epi Week 31, 2022 (August 1-7, 2022) from 19 states.

“Of the 60 suspected cases, 15 new confirmed cases have been recorded in Epi Week 31 from 10 states – Imo (3), FCT (2), Ondo (2), Rivers (2), Abia (1), Anambra (1), Ebonyi (1), Edo (1), Ogun (1), and Nasarawa (1).

“From  January 1 to August 7, 2022, there have now been 473 suspected cases with 172 confirmed cases (115 male, 57 female) from 27 states – Lagos (20), Ondo (16), Adamawa (13), Rivers (13), Delta (12), Bayelsa (12), Edo (9), Nasarawa (9), Anambra (7), FCT (7), Imo (7), Plateau (6), Taraba (5), Kwara (5), Kano (5), Abia (4), Cross River (3), Borno (3), Oyo (3), Gombe (3), Katsina (2), Kogi (2), Ogun (2), Niger (1), Bauchi (1), Akwa Ibom (1), and Ebonyi (1).

“Overall, since the re-emergence of monkeypox in September 2017, 985 suspected cases have been reported from 35 states in the country. Of these 985 suspected cases, 398 (40.4%) were confirmed (263 male, 135 female) from 30 states.

“12 deaths have been recorded (CFR = 3.0%) since September 2017 in nine states—Lagos (3), Edo (2), Imo (1), Cross River (1), FCT (1), Rivers (1), Ondo (1), Delta (1), and Akwa Ibom (1).”

The NCDC, however, said there are ongoing efforts to strengthen surveillance at the national and sub-national levels, to increase awareness, and to promptly detect and respond to the outbreak.

Speaking with The PUNCH, the Ondo State Epidemiologist, Dr. Stephen Fagbemi, said people need to visit the hospital once they notice the symptoms.

The symptoms, according to him, are fever, swelling of lymph nodes, back pain, intense headache, muscle aches, and lack of energy.

“There is a need for increased awareness on the steps to reduce the virus exposure and people need to report to hospitals once they notice the symptoms.”

Also, the Senior Vice President for Africa, Human Health Education and Research Foundation, Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, said Nigerians must ensure that they protect themselves against the disease.

“You must ensure you wash your hands thoroughly, and always avoid contact with animals that could harbour the virus, including sick or dead animals. Personal hygiene is always important,” Nsofor said.

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