Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic debunked reports that its members receive N500,000 daily allowance, describing it as fake news.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, while responding to a question on the issue said those behind the report were after distracting the government from containing and combating the virus.
He said: “On sitting allowance of half a million paid to each member of the committee, you remember each time I come here…since I tested negative to coronavirus my other major problem has been fake news.
As soon as I got that information, I consulted with my colleagues here and I asked them whether I am not a member of the task force and I asked them if they had received their own and they said no.
“But you see what bothers me is that since 2 o’clock this afternoon, I have been receiving text messages to send money to people, that they were broke, that they had no money and I begin to wonder why today, apparently they are acting on this fake news that we receive half a million naira every day.
“The truth of the matter is that no member of the committee has received one penny either for sitting or sleeping allowance, not even when we went to Lagos yesterday (Tuesday).
“This fake news is aimed at one thing: to distract the government from the more serious problem and task containing and combating this virus.
“I want to say it loud and clear that no member of the committee receives a penny as sitting allowance. Everybody is sacrificing their time, energy and even sometimes resources.”
Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, has insisted that the centre stands by result of the Benue Coronavirus index case in Makurdi.
He said: “The only thing I can confirm is yes, the test was done in one of our labs and there is nowhere you can do the test at the moment and we stand by the result of that test within the limits of microbiology test, none of them is 100 per cent.”
Reacting to those describing coronavirus as a hoax, he warned that there were facts to counter that argument.
Ihekweazu said: “I think anyone that is really asking that question at this point…so many families have lost dear ones, people very close to them, there has not been an outbreak experience in my lifetime in real-time as much as this one.
“We have been in touch with many of these patients; the honourable minister and I have called many of them, this is not a hoax.”
He also reiterated the committee’s stance not to talk about individuals’ experiences.
The DG NCDC said: “If they (patients) want to talk about their experience, it is really up to them; it is not we that in government that will speak about the experience of any patient’s illness. I noticed on social media that one or two of those have been speaking about their experience; if you want to hear from them, I encourage you to reach out and let them decide whether they want to tell their stories to the press. But it will be inappropriate for me or any member of this committee to ask the patients to share their experience with the press or anyone else.”
On the question on testing he said: “There will be many lessons learnt on this outbreak. One of them in the long term is to build up our laboratory architecture but the honest truth is that we cannot do it over night. We are working as hard as we can.
“The strategy by South Africa … and I worked there for three years, is that they have a national laboratory service … is fairly well developed. They have a private lab architecture that is very well developed; 70 per cent of the tests in South Africa as I understand have been done in the private sector.
“So, they have been able to mobilise their existing laboratory services to come and support the public sector. Unfortunately, we don’t have that type of sophistication right now existing that we can simply mobilize to do this. This is the reality that we have to change collectively.
“So, as I speak, I also challenge all of us as state governors, as a country, let us work together to build this architecture that we need well into the future. A lot of the drive through testing that you see dosen’t mean that the test is happening there; the samples are collected and then taken to the lab. So it is an absolute priority for us. So we are working across board to increase our testing and some of the efforts being put by government both to covert some of the machines used for TB diagnostics and some of the machines for HIV diagnostics…those will not happen overnight. The earliest date for that is the third week of April, the fourth week of April, we will be able to get to the stage where we are doing that. So, we are doing all we can to increase our testing capacity across the country.”
Ihekweazu also said that efforts were on to trace all the contacts that came in contact with the dead doctor in Katsina.
On remedies, he said: “We should remember that 90 percent of these patients recover without any intervention. So if you take something and you recovered and you think that something is the reason why you recovered, it doesn’t quite add up. Hopefully, there will be some treatment emerging in the next few years.”