Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye and Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) continued its rise, yesterday hitting 184 with 10 fresh cases- seven in Lagos and three in the FCT, last night, even as Nigerians have been told to brace up for more as contact tracing and testing capacity are being ramped up.
Writing on its tweeter hndle, NDDC confirmed: “As at 08:00 pm 2nd April there are 184 confirmed cases of #COVID-19 reported in Nigeria. Twenty have been discharged with two deaths.”
Speaking during the briefing of the Presidential Task Force on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Abuja yesterday, Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, said plans were in place to start producing masks and other essential items locally.
Also while appearing on a live television news programme, he said managers of the COVID-19 pandemic have begun to see early signs of community transmission of the virus in Nigeria.
He said the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT has helped intensify efforts to detect and confirm cases.
Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, confirmed that 71 per cent of all the 6,000 contacts being traced had been reached.
“Tracing teams have been able to take advantage of the restrictions to move very quickly in Lagos to reach all those listed,” he said.
On having coordinated response, the NCDC boss said: “I want to let all the states know that we are here for you, to support you. But I also want you to know that Mr. President has called on us to have one response across the country, a single coordinated response led by PTFCOVID-19.”
He said the NCDC had scaled up its capacity to conduct tests and produce results more quickly as demanded by Nigerians.The NCDC had also expanded the criteria for who should be tested, such as testing of everyone with symptoms of fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, as well as a history of travelling to an area where cases were endemic, or being in close contact with someone who was diagnosed positive.
He said expanding the number of laboratories that could perform COVID-19 testing was critical to getting a more accurate sense of the spread. He said the incubation period was generally 14 days, adding that NCDC was using the opportunity of the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states to promptly detect, isolate and effectively treat cases.
Ihekweazu noted that the COVID-19 test, which involves a nose or a throat swab, could detect the disease, but cannot tell doctors how severe the case would become.
“It’s advisable for doctors to test their patients for other respiratory illnesses before submitting a COVID-19 test. At present, we do not recommend testing for those that do not have symptoms.
“It can take anywhere from two to 14 days for COVID-19 symptoms to develop and until they do the test they won’t pick up signs of the disease. It is more about making sure that you identify whether someone that has exposure develops the disease or not.
“Testing them early on in their incubation period doesn’t help settle that question. Even those who have been asked to quarantine often will not be tested until they have symptoms,” he said. “We want Nigerians to keep in mind that we have the capacity to test, but we want to make sure that those tests are used in the best way possible, at the state and national level we don’t have unlimited supplies. We want to focus on individuals who are in a high risk situation.”
The DG said that Nigerians should continue to think ahead about the actions that they could take to stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in country.
He, however, said that, together, Nigerians could slow the spread of COVID-19: “Physical social distancing is proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness during an outbreak. This means making changes in everyday routines to minimise close contact with others, including avoiding crowded places and non-essential gatherings, avoiding common greetings, such as handshakes.
“Limiting contact with people at higher risk like older persons and those in poor health, keeping a distance of at least two arms’ length, approximately two metres, from others.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has raised the alarm that fake news was distracting the fight against COVID-19.
“I think this is quite unhelpful. It was trending on the social media that the equipment that we received from China, from Jack Ma, have all been infected with virus. This is not true. Also, I was quoted yesterday (Wednesday) to have said that the PTF had distributed N5 billion to the most vulnerable people in the last 24 hours. That also is not correct.
“The whole idea of this daily briefing is to eliminate any disinformation or fake news because here we give you the latest developments in the fight against COVID-19.
“Whatever any other person in the task force does, either by appearing in television, radio shows or granting interviews is simply to amplify what we’ve given you here. So, by being here, you’ll get authentic information, real time, on the fight against COVID-19,” he said.
The Federal Government has also urged all state governments to prepare facilities of at least 300-person capacity in anticipation of a surge in the spread of the disease.
Chairman of the task force, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, said the Federal Government would intensify consultation with state governments to better coordinate the fight against the pandemic.
Mustapha stressed that most of the harsh measures that have been introduced might be amplified, noting that COVID-19, beyond posing a potential threat to humanity, was a threat to the economy and national security of Nigeria.
On the need for coordinated work with state governments, the SGF, said: “As we continue to assess the readiness of containment and management, we recognise strongly the importance of synergy with the states. It is important for states, whether in the frontline where cases have been reported or where cases have not been reported, to intensify the preparation of facilities that will help, in the event of a surge
“In furtherance of this consultation, we are requesting that the sub-national governments should provide at least a 300 bed facility, either a hotel or any other facility that is available to them, with options, upgraded in different categories so that they provide basic nursing and earlier required procedures before patients are moved into the isolation centres or the teaching hospitals or any other facility. Those facilities, starting from 300 should be expandable as the need arises,” he said.
The SGF also said there has been no cash donation to government to fight COVID-19. He said there have been efforts by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), corporate bodies and individuals to raise funds but government had no control over the initiatives. He said an account, which would be under their control, had been opened and no transaction carried out yet: “Let me inform the nation that, so far, the Presidential Task Force has not received any donation directly in terms of cash for this exercise.
“We have received donations of materials particularly from the ones that came from Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire, and that has adequately been distributed by the NCDC. In terms of monetary contribution, the national coordinator has just informed you that different organisations and individuals are pioneering that in their efforts.
“So far, I know of four different efforts. The first is the one being driven by the Central Bank and the corporate organisations, jointly being handled by the governor of the Central Bank and Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
“They have a funding committee, they have an operation committee and they have a technical committee. They are going to run, fund, execute projects, buy equipment, all in furtherance of fighting coronavirus. At the end of the exercise, they have explained in their document that they will appoint an accounting firm that will take an audit of their exercise and make a report to the donors for the purposes of accountability and transparency. Government does not have control of those funds, the presidential task force does not have control of those funds.”