Coronavirus Spread: WHO Lists Nigeria Among High Risk Countries

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  • FG sets up vigilance group
  • Lai Mohammed: We won’t stop Nigerians from travelling to China

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Martins Ifijeh in Lagos

The World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday listed Nigeria among 13 African countries identified as high-risk for the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

A statement from WHO said the identified African countries have direct links or a high volume of travel to China.

The other countries listed are Algeria, Angola, Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

On the same day, the federal government announced the establishment of a Coronavirus Preparedness Group to mitigate the impact of the virus should it find its way into the country.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said: “To ensure rapid detection of the novel coronavirus, it is important to have laboratories which can test samples and WHO is supporting countries to improve their testing capacity. Since this is a new virus, there are currently only two referral laboratories in the African region which have the reagents needed to conduct such tests.

“However, reagent kits are being shipped to more than 20 other countries in the region, so diagnostic capacity is expected to increase over the coming days. Active screening at airports has been established in a majority of these countries and while they will be WHO first areas of focus, the organisation will support all countries in the region in their preparation efforts.

“It is critical that countries step up their readiness and in particular put in place effective screening mechanisms at airports and other major points of entry to ensure that the first cases are detected quickly.

“The quicker countries can detect cases, the faster they will be able to contain an outbreak and ensure the novel coronavirus does not overwhelm health systems.”

There are no confirmed cases of the potentially fatal virus on the African continent yet.

In its latest public health advisory released yesterday, the federal government, through the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said given the situation, it had put in place quick and diverse strategies to prevent importation of Coronavirus cases into Nigeria, hence the setup of the multi-sectoral group.

The Chief Executive Officer, NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said: “Coronavirus Preparedness Group has been constituted to carry out regular epidemic intelligence gathering, enhanced surveillance at the points of entry, intensive risk communications, strengthen laboratory capacity for testing, placing National First Rapid Response Team to highly pathogenic infections on alert, scaling up of Public Health Emergency Operation Centres in states, among other measures.

“The group has representatives from Federal Ministry of Health, Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), World Health Organisation (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control (US-CDC), Pro-Health International (PHI), Public Health England (PHE) and others working with the NCDC in assessing and managing the risk of importation of the disease to Nigeria, as well as making preparations for early detection and response.”

He said coronaviruses were zoonotic, meaning they are normally transmitted between animals and people, adding that the novel coronavirus (nCoV) was a new strain of the virus that has not been previously identified in humans.

“Some coronaviruses can be transmitted from person-to-person, usually after close contact with an infected patient, for example, in a household or healthcare setting. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. For this novel coronavirus (nCoV), while most initial transmission appeared to be zoonotic, person- to-person transmission has occurred,” he added.

The NCDC also noted that the country’s Port Health Services unit had heightened screening measures at points of entry, adding that in addition to automated thermal screening at points of entry, travellers from China to Nigeria were asked questions upon arrival by the Port Health Services unit about symptoms of illness and travel history and were advised to contact NCDC if they feel unwell after a trip to Wuhan.

The federal government called on Nigerians to remain calm, while also calling on travellers from Nigeria to Wuhan, China, to avoid contact with sick people, animals (alive or dead) and animal markets.

As at yesterday, the virus had spread to 18 countries, with 7,818 confirmed cases and 170 deaths. Its case fatality rate is currently 2.2 per cent.

In a related development, the Chinese government said it had extended the Lunar New Year holiday and put in place other measures to dissuade their citizens from traveling out of China, as part of many significant measures to contain the spread of the virus outside China.

It said it had put major travel restrictions in the main affected areas in China and air passengers traveling from Wuhan, China were screened on exit to prevent the exportation of the virus.

“This includes temperature checks combined with the provision of information and masks to passengers. Passengers without symptoms on departure, but become unwell in transit are encouraged to self-report to the relevant authorities on arrival,” the Chinese government noted.

Lai Mohammed: We Won’t Stop Nigerians from Travelling to China

Meanwhile, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed yesterday said the federal government would not stop Nigerians from travelling to China or any other countries where the coronavirus has manifested.

He said that the country was not considering any move to advise its citizens to leave China on account of outbreak of the coronavirus.

The minister, who spoke to journalists shortly after the median meeting of the inter-ministerial and multi-sectoral committee on coronavirus held at the Ministry of Health, Abuja, said rather than impose travel ban, there will be travel advisory that will help Nigerians who wish to visit China to do so without any encumbrances to their health and wellbeing. 

Against the background of recent decision by the WHO to declare the coronavirus a global public health emergency, Mohammed said his ministry would mobilise all public communication platform at the government’s disposal, which would be deployed to ensure massive sensitisation of the Nigerian public on safety practices.

He said it would be very difficult to stop people from travelling to places of their choice.

Lai Mohammad said the international community had shown its confidence on the ability of Nigeria to handle the health challenge posed by the coronavirus disease, adding that the country’s performance during the Ebola is still a reference point.

Speaking at the end of inaugural meeting of the committee, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire said a committee had been set up to develop action plan to drive government’s intervention.

He also said the federal government had approved N71million requested by the ministry to improve the services of the Port Health Services.

The minister assured that government was taking adequate measures to address the challenges posed by the virus disease which first broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The Coronavirus committee is made up of several line ministries, including Health, Aviation, Transport, Information and Culture, Police Affairs, Internal Affairs, Agriculture and Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Also, the committee involves various government agencies and parastatals as well as state governors where international airports are located, Lagos, Enugu, Rivers and Kano.

Ehanire said the committee would help to map out strategies to prevent the importation of coronavirus into the country.

He said with declaration of coronavirus as a major public health emergency by the WHO, government has decided to further step up action to protect Nigerians from the virus disease.

While urging members of the committee to work together to achieve positive result, Ehanire cautioned that the coronavirus has the capacity to spread fast and overwhelm communities’ health facilities and cause havoc.