Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government has said it would enforce the wearing of masks in public places such as markets, where physical or social distancing is difficult. The government also warned against the stigmatisation of persons that have tested positive for coronavirus, saying it would prevent people from willingly coming out to be tested for the virus.
Director-general of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, stated this yesterday at the briefing by the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). He said, every Friday, by 6pm, the number of tests done by the centre would be made public.
“We should stop stigmatising COVID-19 patients. If we stigmatise patients, people will choose not to be tested and the virus might go unchecked and this lockdown will continue. In these times, what unites us is more than what divides us. Where physical distancing is quite difficult, like in markets, we will be firmer about prescribing the use of masks,” Ihekweazu said.
On his part, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, said the country had selected two airlines to bring back Nigerians stranded abroad.
“Because of the high numbers and limited mandatory isolation spaces in Nigeria, the evacuations will be done in batches. We have received all the numbers from our various embassies around the world. We have selected two airlines that will be responsible for fetching them. Numbers are high and we don’t have isolation spaces for everyone at the same time. So, we will have to stagger the repatriation,” Onyeama said.
Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, warned that patients with mild symptoms were still very highly infectious, and mild symptoms in one person could be deadly infection on another person.
“That is why we recommend the suspension of close contact between grandchildren and grandparents, at this time. Our valuable health workers are urged to adhere to all government instructions and regulations; always utilise personal protective equipment (PPE), maintain a high index of suspicion for COVID-19 and protect yourselves, loved ones and colleagues,” Ehanire said.
The minister also warned private facilities treating cases without accreditation to desist from the act of risk being sanctioned: “I shall use this opportunity to again strongly advise health professionals against private or secret management of people who have COVID-19 outside accredited health facilities. We cannot afford avoidable morbidity and mortality.
“Private facilities must obtain accreditation to treat this highly infectious disease. Practitioners engaging in unauthorised treatment of COVID-19 run the risk of being shut down for decontamination.
“This next phase of our strategy, due to the available evidence of community transmission in Nigeria, now focuses on the community. There will be more community testing and social mobilisation at the grassroots to ensure physical distancing and advisories on the use of masks or improvised face coverings like handkerchiefs or scarves over the mouth and nose, to reduce risk of transmission. Again, the revised case definition for testing includes: all patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, contacts of people confirmed to have COVID-19 with fever and respiratory tract symptoms, persons with fever and respiratory tract symptoms of unknown cause.”
The health minister said one of the reasons for the lockdown was to prevent people from moving around and carrying the virus to other places, so, “We need people to stay where they are.”
Relaxing lockdown dangerous
The Federal Government, yesterday, said relaxing the lockdown order in some states would have dire consequences to efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
Secretary to the Ferderal Government, Mr. Boss Mustapha, who stated this yesterday while responding to a question on the lack of cooperation between the federal and sub-national governments at the daily press briefing, warned against any attempt to continue with the business-as-usual attitude by heeding to calls for the relaxation of the lockdown. He was reacting to Kano State that went from recording one index case that resulted in fatality to having 21 confirmed cases.
“This is not the time to relax any lockdown. A state has gone from one index case to 21; so it is a serious business, please. It is not a joking matter and this is not the time to play any game.
“It is only our collective resolve as a country that can help us deal with this pandemic. So, I will continue to emphasis the fact that we have one national response and scientifically proven and only way that you can drastically reduce transmission, through the lockdown. Once people don’t come in contact with each other, we will be able trace those that have appeared on our radar as persons of interest, follow them up, track them, if need be, test them, if possible, take them into isolation, move them from cohabiting with other people that are not infected and give them the appropriate care.
“But as long as we allow business as usual, people getting together, partying, then we should be prepared to deal with the consequences of our actions. So, I will continue to make this passionate appeal that, given this two weeks, I must commend the governors that have taken the bold steps in locking down their states so that the needful will be done. The Quarantine Act signed by Mr. President has direct bearing on Abuja, Lagos and Ogun, so we have responsibility to ensure that this lockdown in these three locations is effective and geared towards producing the desired result for which the extension is granted,” Mustapha said.
The SGF also called on garment factories to seize the opportunity and go into mass production of masks.
“Let me also encourage our garment factories and tailors that this is the time to start producing locally, using our local fabrics, the ankara, the leather, and all other materials that we have because of advisories that as much as possible we should wear masks whenever we are outside our homes. That way, we will reduce the chances of infection or infecting others,” he said.
Meanwhile the committee has raised the alarm over the escalation of community transmission of the disease by those moving across state borders.
National coordinator of the PTF, Dr. Sani Aliyu, expressed fears that the mass smuggling of people out of Lagos State in trucks was not helpful.
He, therefore, appealed to Nigerians to take the lockdown order by the federal government and states seriously, noting that the fight to beat back the pandemic in the country depended largely on how much attention and respect the public gave to guidelines issued by the PTF.
Pandemic’ll spread to every state – NCDC
Meanwhile, Ihekweazu has predicted that the pandemic will spread to every state in Nigeria.
The disease is already in 22 states.
“Since the onset of the outbreak, we are testing a lot more (and) that is beginning to show. It is only so much we can do from NCDC; we are working with the state governments.
“They actually own the response at the state and local levels, and we need all of them now. We really have to face the reality that this is an outbreak, this is a virus.
“It will circulate in Nigeria, absolutely no doubt, and our responsibility as a country is to prepare more, to be able to detect, isolate, treat, list contacts, and stop transmission.”
The NCDC boss said the agency had activated a testing centre in Kano State to boost testing capacity.
“We just activated the lab in Kano a few days ago. So, these are the results of the increased testing capacity that we are providing for the country,” he said. “The tests are fairly robust; I can’t say 100 percent but they are as close to that as possible. We had the highest number of positive cases in a single day.”