COVID-19: Nigeria on Verge of Community Spread, FG Warns

Lai Mohammed

· Considers tougher measures

.Intensifies contract tracing for 4,370 persons

*Says ‘Buhari kicking and incharge’

By Iyobosa Uwugiaren 

The federal government raised the alarm on Thursday that Nigeria was on the verge of reaching the level of community spread of COVID-19, asking for collective efforts to stop it immediately or there could be exponential rise in cases in the days ahead.

Speaking to journalists in Abuja Tuesday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, however, said that apart from the ‘’aggressive measures’’ in containing the spread of COVID-19, the government was also considering ‘’tougher measures’’ to enforce compliance in order to stop the exportation of the disease to states that do not have it.

In a press conference called to update members of the public on the measures being taken to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, he also revealed that the relevant authorities were tracing 4,370 people of interest and urged those who had contact with suspected cases to immediately report to the authorities.

Responding to the status of President Muhammadu Buhari, the minister said, ‘’ Mr President is well, kicking and in-charge; and at the appropriate time he will address the nation.’’

He also revealed that ministers and members of the presidential task force on COVID-19 were tested on Wednesday, but he was not at liberty to know or disclose the results.

‘’As for me, I tested yesterday and the result came out negative. After the test, we were supposed to go on self- isolation. But giving the nature of the crisis we have at hands, we cannot disappear. But we are taking the necessary measures’’, the minister said.

Some of the measure being considered, according to the federal government include, stopping inter-state/inter-town travels – except for essential services; closing all motor parks and inter-state rail stations, and using firefighting and other adaptable vehicles and personnel to fumigate cities and towns.

‘’We will be considering and announcing new measures from time to time, but rest assured that whatever decisions we take will be in the best interest of Nigerians’’, he added.

The minister said that while he didn’t intend to sound apocalyptic, he warned that time was running out, saying that if Nigerians don’t urgently and more aggressively enforce the recommended measures they have a short window within which to stop the pandemic.

Announcing that the federal government has received donated safety and test kits from the Jack Ma Foundation in China, which include, 100,000 Face Masks; 1,000 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and 20,000 test kits, he said some of the supplies will be distributed to the front-line health workers, while the test kits will be shared among the five test laboratories.

The minister added that the federal government was also taking measures to increase the number of bed spaces for isolation of cases.

‘’The facilities we have now include the 40-bed hotel, the 60-bed Medical Centre in Zuba and the 160-bed centre in Abuja. We are still looking at other facilities within the Federal Capital Territory.

‘’As we said during our last press conference, contact tracing is very critical to stopping the spread of the virus. Today, we have 51 cases covering 8 states: Lagos – 32, FCT – 10, Ogun – 3, Ekiti – 1, Edo – 1, Bauchi – 1, Osun – 1, Oyo – 1 and Rivers – 1.

‘’We have 4,370 people of interest whom we are tracing. We urge those who have had contact with suspected cases to immediately report to the authorities. We urge Nigerians to support the authorities in this regard’’, he further pleaded.

He warned that Nigeria was on the verge of reaching the level of community spread and stated, ‘’We must stop this immediately or we will record exponential cases in the days ahead.

‘’Let me say, without mincing words, that we are not getting the kind of cooperation that this moment deserves from Nigerians. Many are busy engaging in meaningless criticisms instead of complying with the stipulated directives to keep people safe.

‘’Some Nigerians who flew into the country from overseas filled wrong addresses and phone numbers in their forms, making it difficult to trace them when the need arises. Some Nigerians defied orders to stay away from large gatherings while some religious leaders wilfully flouted the directives to ensure social distancing’’, he said.

While noting the decision of at least five domestic airlines – Air Peace, Aero and Azman, Dana and Arik – to suspend their flight operations, the minister said the suspension was a boost for the efforts of the government to check the spread of the pandemic.