•Tracing 156 co-passengers of infected Italian
•Cautions schools against forcing students to wear face masks
•Fayemi orders screening of passengers at motor parks
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja, Martins Ifijeh in Lagos, Francis Sardauna in Katsina and Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti
The federal government has placed five countries with community transmission of COVID-19, comprising Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan and China on its watch list.
The federal Ministry of Health is also tracing 156 passengers that boarded the Turkish Airline flight with the Italian that tested positive to Coronavirus on arrival in Nigeria. It is believed that some of the passengers may have left the country after stopping over for days.
Besides, the federal government has cautioned schools against forcing students to wear face masks, adding that the virus is treatable.
Also, following the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Lagos, the Katsina State Government has inaugurated an emergency operation centre to tackle any outbreak of the disease in the state.
The Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has also directed medical experts to start screening passengers coming into the state from border states to prevent the spread of the virus to the state.
However, as the federal government stepped up efforts to curb the spread of the virus into the country, the Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said yesterday that the government had decided to place four more countries on the watch list.
He told Channels TV that the four nations were added to China, which has been on the list since January.
He explained that the federal government has now added four more countries to enable authorities to heighten surveillance for travellers from these countries.
He said: “Anyone travelling from these nations who fall ill within 14 days is advised to reach us to enable us to take their samples and then do tests to check whether or not they are positive to the virus.
“We have been preparing for this for the past six weeks. So far, we have done 15 tests and only one came up positive. This shows our system is actually working. We are testing people that meet our case definition.
“As you have seen in Lagos, we have had only one positive case and we have been able to mount a response in partnership with Ogun and Lagos States.
“This virus is circulating around the world and over 50 countries have been affected. We will do our very best to ensure it doesn’t further enter Nigeria and even if a few more cases happen, we can walk together to defeat it. Nigerians are also very cooperative. They have shown that truly, we can come together to address these incidents.”
According to him, one of the best investments the federal government has made is setting up NCDC, which has grown to become the pride of Africa.
He said the centre has a team of 250 persons who work 24/7 in the laboratories, surveillance, risk communication, among others; NCDC, he added, had built a team of scientific experts.
“We are building a long term investment in science, thinking and in knowledge base as this will help us respond to incidence like this.
“We have 23 emergency operation centres in the country as of today. This is an investment we have made over the past few years. We have five new molecular laboratories, which are actually not easy to set up. The buildings are actually the easiest part. The more difficult ones are the laboratory and scientific expertise, the reagents, and the likes,” he added.
He called on state governments to invest in health security, adding that the federal government cannot tackle issues around disease outbreaks alone.
FG Tracing 156 Co-Passengers of Italian Patient
The federal government also said the 156 passengers that boarded the flight with the Italian that tested positive to Covid-19 on arrival in Nigeria are being traced as some of them may have left the country after stopping over for days.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, told journalists in Abuja that apart from some of the phone numbers that were not connecting, there was the likelihood that some of the passengers might have left the country.
He said the ministry, which was leading the efforts to arrest the further spread of the virus had so far done well.
The minister added that the team of health officials had been able to identify and quarantine 19 persons in Lagos who had met the index definition.
Besides, a total of 39 persons have been identified in Ogun State under the ongoing contact tracing operation.
“The only ones we know for sure is the number of people that were in the aircraft with the Italian who imported COVID-19 into the country, 156 persons. Those ones are still being traced and contacted. We are having a huge challenge contacting these passengers; whereas some of them didn’t leave phone numbers, others left numbers that were not connecting. Some were arriving in the country for the first time and probably haven’t registered their SIM cards, some also left the country after a day or two, but there are ways we can track them through the passenger manifest,” the minister said.
Ehanire explained that the owner of the aircraft has been notified as well as the embassies of the travel agencies involved in the flight operation.
However, Ehanire said the four Chinese, who were tested for Coronavirus, all came out negative.
“Contact tracing is a specialised activity that is carried out by experts and technologists who know what information to look out for. And so far, we have been able to trace 19 persons in Lagos and 39 in Ogun who had contacts with the Italian COVID-19 victim,” he added.
Regarding the incidence and scope of fatality of the virus disease, he said China was leading with over 95 per cent cases while it had so far claimed 2,977 lives from 59 countries.
The minister said there were speculations that about 80 per cent of infected persons do not have severe symptoms, adding that the severity of the infection is based on the level of one’s immune system.
According to Ehanire, the Covid-19 aliment is largely treatable if there are early signs of infection.
Also the minister used the opportunity to counsel Nigerians against panic measures but to always adhere to health advice on hygiene practices.
He advised against the idea of schools forcing students to wear face masks to classes.
He said even where such a measure might be necessary for those students who reported sick, the authorities of the school may have to think of subsidising the face mask.
Katsina Inaugurates Emergency Operation Centre
Meanwhile, the Katsina State Government has inaugurated an emergency operation centre to tackle any outbreak of COVID-19 in the state.
The state Commissioner of Health, Dr. Yakubu Danja, who briefed journalists yesterday on the preparedness of the state government, said the government had also reactivated its Emergency Response Committee and purchased personal protective equipment.
He reiterated that members of the committee would monitor, supervise and coordinate the state government’s response to the disease in rural and urban areas.
He explained that the state government has commenced the training of health workers, including disease surveillance and notification officers and clinicians on COVID-19.
Fayemi Orders Screening of Passengers at Motor Parks
In Ekiti State, Governor Fayemi had directed medical experts to start screening passengers coming into the state from border states to prevent the spread of the virus.
The governor also set up a 40-man task force to work for the prevention of the spread of the epidemic in the state.
The taskforce, chaired by Fayemi, has members drawn from medical bodies, religious and traditional institutions, civil society organisations, among others.
The government has also set up an isolation centre at the state specialist hospital for quarantining those suspected of being infected.
Fayemi, at a press conference on the virus infection in Ado Ekiti, yesterday, said he had co-opted the leadership of the drivers’ unions to join the task force in a bid to tackle the spread of COVID-19, especially in the area of proper screening of disembarking passengers at motor parks and report those manifesting the symptoms to the appropriate quarters.
The Bishops of Anglican Communion, Ekiti State, Bishop Christopher Omotunde; Catholic Bishop of Ekiti, Bishop Felix Ajakaye; and the Chief Imam of Ekiti, Alhaji Jamiu Kewulere, are also members of the task force.
The governor, who allayed the people’s fears, stated that 24 emergency centres had been provided across the state with enough internet facilities containing the already specified hotlines that can be contacted for emergency situations.
“As a responsible government, Ekiti will beat the virus and minimise its spread. Protective materials will be provided for all health facilities in the state within the next 24 hours,” he said, adding: “Well trained health officers will be available in all our facilities that can handle all information while passengers coming to the state will be screened at the motor parks and entry points.”