Nigeria Mourns as Covid-19 Claims Biggest Victim, Abba Kyari

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•New strategy, community infections, responsible for rising cases, says FG
•With record 51 new cases yesterday, total confirmed now 493
•Private sector relief fund hits N25.9bn
•Edo, Lagos, Kaduna, Enugu, Ogun discharge 20 patients
•Masari locks down Dutsinma
•Soyinka, others ask Africa to reduce dependence
•FG ready to evacuate Nigerians from China
•China raises Wuhan death figure by 50%, denies cover-up

Our Correspondents

The ravaging COVID-19 pandemic claimed its biggest victim in Nigeria late yesterday, with the death of Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari. He died of complications from the virus at a Lagos hospital.

Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, confirmed the sad news in a tweet: “Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, passes on. May God rest his soul. Amen. Funeral arrangements to be announced soon.”

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu also confirmed the death in a terse chat posted on his Twitter handle.

He said: “Presidency regrets to announce the passage of the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari. The deceased had tested positive to the ravaging COVID-19, and had been receiving treatment. But he died on Friday, April 17, 2020. May God accept his soul. Funeral arrangements will be announced shortly.”

It was made public that Kyari tested positive for COVID-19 late last month, following an official trip to Germany nine days before. It was also reported that Kyari had underlying medical conditions. He later rejected these claims, and announced his movement from Abuja to Lagos for further treatment.

While in office, Kyari was an influential figure within the Buhari administration.

During the administration’s first term, he worked mainly behind the scenes to implement the president’s agenda. He also did same during the President’s second term until his death yesterday.

As an avalanche of tributes poured in on social media, especially Twitter, the Minister of state, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo took to his Twitter page to recount his last moments with the deceased.

He wrote: “When I chatted with him exactly on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, he assured me his health was fine and that he would faithfully take the treatments. But God always knows best. Sincere condolences to the Kyari family and the Government of Nigeria. Adieu Mallam Abba Kyari.”

Also speaking, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy also expressed sadness at the death.

He wrote: “May the Almighty Allah forgive and be Merciful to Malam Abba Kyari (Chief of Staff to the President). May He (SWT) bless us with a good end.”

Meanwhile, the federal government yesterday attributed the sudden rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country to the implementation of a new case-finding strategy, as well as the result of rising community transmission.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who disclosed this in Abuja at the media briefing by the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19, said health officials had commenced house-to-house and cluster testing, using the revised criteria for sample collection.

On the same day, figures from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) showed that a record 51 new cases were recorded yesterday, with total number of confirmed cases now 493, from the 442 recoded on Thursday. 159 had been discharged with 17 deaths recorded as at yesterday.

Ehanire explained that more people with COVID-19 were being detected and transferred to treatment centres, adding that there will still be need for more social mobilisation for community testing at grassroots level and Isolation of positive cases.

“We shall ensure the right message is disseminated to control ongoing transmission. In this regard, I must again emphasise that citizens are obliged to disclose complete and accurate information to health workers, especially about their travel history or contact with persons who have or had COVID-19. This is important for two main reasons: full disclosure allows health workers to promptly, investigate, diagnose and treat correctly, to improve chances of patient survival and recovery.

“The right information also keeps the health workers safe. Withholding the truth puts both the user and caregiver at risk, but also other patients on site,” he said.

Speaking during the media briefing yesterday, the Director General of the NCDC, Dr.

Chikwe Ihekweazu said that the centre has approved a new testing strategy which will be uploaded on its website so that all interested stakeholders can have access to it.

“Today we are pleased to announce a national strategy to scale up the Coronavirus disease testing in Nigeria and we are putting it up on our website. People can tell us their thinking about state governments and other private sector stakeholders. The strategy shows the direction NCDC is headed and how they can come in. This leverages on validated technologies available for testing at the moment,” he said.

The NCDC DG said that one of the key aspects of the strategy was not only to leverage on existing infrastructure for testing, but also to rapidly include other facilities that are used for other infectious diseases.

Giving more insight into the strategy, Ihekweazu said that the first thing was to expand the existing laboratory network and secondly to convert facilities used for testing HIV infection for use in testing COVID-19 cases.

He said the centre was able to secure supply of reagents on Thursday to test-run the converted machines at the national reference laboratory in Abuja.

He said that another option was to utilise an equipment known as Gene Expert machine to also scale up the testing for COVID-19 in the country. On this, Ihekweazu said that there are 400 Gene Expert, out of which 41 were now ready for use for COVID-19 testing.

He further said that there are plans to decentralise COVID-19 testing to all the 36 states and to rapidly improve the turnaround time for getting test results.

While responding to a question about the country’s apparent late commencement of mass testing for COVID-19, Ihekweazu said: “You know COVID-19 is unlike anything we have ever seen, and it requires very critical and fast thinking. I know that we might have been slow to get things scaled up, but anyone that had followed discussions around this disease outbreak will know that it is not only Nigeria that has struggled with initiating mass testing in their settings.”

Private Sector Relief Fund Hits N25.9bn

Donations into the private sector relief fund, championed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to raise funds to combat COVID-19 have risen to N25.894 billion as at yesterday, up from the N21.589 billion reported previously.

This was disclosed in a statement yesterday on behalf of the coalition by the Director, Corporate Communications, CBN, Mr. Isaac Okoroafor.

Also, the statement showed that the list of contributors has increased from the 50 reported previously, to a total of 107 individuals and organisations.

Okoroafor, while urging more Nigerians and corporate bodies to contribute to the fund, charged Nigerians to do their part in checking any further spread of the virus in Nigeria.

CACOVID recently said work had started to provide and equip medical facilities in the six geopolitical zones.

The medical facilities included the creation of testing, isolation and treatment centres as well as the provision of Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and molecular testing labs.
CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, had said CACOVID was targeting N120 billion for the acquisition of healthcare facilities and advocacy about the virus across the country, among others.

FG Ready to Evacuate Nigerians from China

Following the new revelations as regards the maltreatment of Nigerians in Guangzhou, China, the federal government has declared its readiness to immediately begin the process of evacuating the affected Nigerians from the Asian country.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, made this known while addressing a press conference yesterday in Abuja, where he revealed that he had summoned the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian, for the second time since the reports surfaced in the media to register Nigeria’s displeasure over the development.

He stressed that contrary to what the Nigerian government had believed that the situation was now under control, it became apparent that there were still very distressing incidences.

The minister stated categorically that emerging facts revealed that it was an institutional attack on the rights and dignity of Nigerians and Africans there.

Onyeama said even though there was an effort to contain an outbreak of the virus, including some Africans who came into the country and tested positive, but insisted that there was absolutely no reason whatsoever to completely trespass on the rights and dignity of Nigerians and Africans in the city.

Onyeama further said the Nigerian Ambassador to China, Baba Ahmed Jidda, as well as other African ambassadors in China, met with the Chinese Foreign Ministry and expressed their concern and made a number of demands of the Chinese Government, including the insistence on the respect of the rights and dignity of Africans and Nigerians in Guangdong.

FG Proposes Palliatives for Coronavirus Victims

The federal government has suggested that coronavirus victims also deserve palliatives and should be enlisted on the conditional cash transfer register administered by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

The Chairman of Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, made this proposal yesterday while the task force was briefing the press. The conditional cash transfer seeks to provide financial palliatives for the vulnerable of the society across all states of the federation.

Masari Locks Down Dutsinma

Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State on Thursday night announced the lockdown of another Local government area in the state (Dutsinma).

He said the lockdown which becomes effective from yesterday is meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the council and in the state.

The Governor, who made the announcement at the review meeting on COVID-19 at Government House, Katsina, revealed that a report from the NCDC confirmed one COVID-19 case in Dutsinma, necessitating the lockdown.

Another decision taken at the meeting was to shut down major weekly markets in the state, also from yesterday.

The governor also announced the suspension of weekly Friday congregational prayers with effect from next week until further notice and the suspension of annual Ramadan public Tafsir and Tarawiy as well as the suspension of activities at the cinema, event centres and Television viewing centres throughout the state.

Katsina currently has seven cases of COVID-19 and one death had been recorded.

Edo, Lagos, Kaduna, Enugu, Ogun Discharge 20 Patients

Edo State has discharged five coronavirus patients undergoing treatment in its isolation centre.

Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, announced this on his Twitter handle on yesterday.

He tweeted, “I am pleased to announce that 5 of the confirmed cases in #Edo State have now tested negative twice for #COVID-19. They have thus been discharged.

“This bolsters our resolve to defeat this common enemy, as we roll out more measures to check the spread of #COVID-19.”

Also in Lagos, five more patients undergoing treatment at its isolation centres have been discharged.

The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, made this known in a tweet yesterday.

He said that the five newly-discharged patients bring the total number of patients that have recovered in the state to 90.

Abayomi tweeted, “19 new confirmed cases of #COVID-19 Infection recorded in Lagos on the 16th of April. This brings the total number of confirmed Lagos #COVID-19 cases to 254.

“Five fully recovered #COVID-19 patients were discharged. Total discharged #COVID-19 patients are now 90.”

Three patients have recovered COVID-19 in Kaduna state. The commissioner of health, Dr. Amina Baloni disclosed this in a statement yesterday.

Ogun state governor, Dapo Abiodun, yesterday evening, also announced that the state had discharged six more COVID-19 patients leaving it with only three confirmed cases.

In Enugu State, the second COVID-19 patient, who is one of the two cases in the state that were in isolation, receiving treatment, has tested negative for the disease and consequently been discharged by the State Ministry of Health.

6,649 tested for COVID-19 in Nigeria – NCDC

The NCDC says of the 6,649 people tested for the Coronavirus nationwide, there were more males than females.

Director-General of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, made the disclosure in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria, in Abuja yesterday.

Iheakweazu said NCDC data revealed that of the 6,649 suspected cases tested for the disease, 71 per cent were males, while females made up just 21 per cent of the total number.

He said of the sources of cases, 210 had travel history, 129 were contacts of confirmed cases, 11 infected by unknown sources, while 92 still had incomplete epidemiological information.

According to the NCDC DG, the agency continues to respond to the pandemic across the country and had prioritised the distribution of Viral Transport Medium, to all the states and FCT, for sample collection.

He also said that the deployment of COVID-19 starter packs to all tertiary institutions and the federal medical centres was in progress.

Iheakweazu further said the NCDC had fully set up an expanded laboratory network for COVID-19 across the six geopolitical zones, with 13 laboratories activated.

He, however, said that the deployment of Rapid Response Team to support response in all states with confirmed case(s) stood at 22.

Soyinka, Others Ask Africa to Reduce Dependence

Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, and other leaders of thought across the African continent have said the current coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need for African countries to change their mindset of depending on help from outside to survive.

They stated this in a letter jointly signed by them.

Apart from Soyinka, the long list of signers to the letter address to African leaders had Makhily Gassama (essayist); Cheikh Kane (writer); Odile Tobner (Librairie des Peuples Noirs, Cameroon) ; Iva Cabral (daughter of Amilcar Cabral, University of Mindelo); and Olivette Otele (Bristol University)

A portion of the letter read, “The challenge for Africa is no less than the restoration of its intellectual freedom and a capacity to create – without which no sovereignty is conceivable. It is to break with the outsourcing of our sovereign prerogatives, to reconnect with local configurations, to break with sterile imitation, to adapt science, technology and research to our context, to elaborate institutions on the basis of our specificities and our resources, to adopt an inclusive governance framework and endogenous development, to create value in Africa in order to reduce our systemic dependence.

“More crucially, it is essential to remember that Africa has sufficient material and human resources to build a shared prosperity on an egalitarian basis and in respect of the dignity of each and everyone. The dearth of political will and the extractive practices of external actors can no longer be used as excuse for inaction. We no longer have a choice: we need a radical change in direction. Now is the time!”

The writers urged African leaders to seize the opportunity of the coronavirus crisis to “break with a model of development based on the vicious cycle of indebtedness.”

China Raises Coronavirus Death Figure By 50%, Denies Cover-up

China has raised the official Coronavirus death toll of its city Wuhan by 50%, giving more credence to US President Trump’s claim that the country lied to the world about its death figures.

Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged late last year, admitted people died at home and cases were missed as hospitals struggled to cope in the early days of the outbreak.

In the new revised figures, the Wuhan city government increased the death toll by 1,290 – about 50 percent – bringing the total in Wuhan to 3,869 and the number of deaths across China to 4,632.

Chinese State controlled Xinhua News Agency quoted an unidentified official in Wuhan’s epidemic and prevention and control headquarters as saying mistaken reporting occurred during the outbreak.

China has also denied editing its official death toll for political purposes.

In an editorial, the Global Times, a tabloid owned by the Communist Party, rejected the accusations and said the revisions were made “based on facts” and that China had not been affected by “Western noise.”

“The strict review and correction of the death toll means there is no room for deliberate concealment,” the paper said. “Speculation that China falsified the death toll from the coronavirus is far from the truth. China is not a country where one can fabricate data in complete disregard of the law.”