Presidential Task Force Links Kano Deaths to COVID-19

Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu

•170 new cases move tally to 2,558 with 400 discharged, 87 dead
•NCDC seeks access to Remdesivir for treatment of patients
•Speaks with NAFDAC to facilitate approval for use
•Cautions against use of Hydroxychloroquine
•Cloth masks can offer 80% protection, says US study
•Handlers of Abba Kyari’s body test negative
•Dangote Foundation sponsors 400 tests per day laboratory in Kano

Ejiofor Alike, Segun James, Chinedu Eze in Lagos, Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja and Ibrahim Shuaibu in Kano

The Head of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 sent to investigate the high incidence of deaths in Kano State, Dr. Nasiru Gwarzo, yesterday linked the deaths to COVID-19, saying the results of 80 per cent of the tests conducted were positive for the disease.

His report came on the day the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said the tally for confirmed cases of the virus had climbed to 2,558 with 400 discharged and 87 dead.

It said there were 170 fresh cases yesterday spread across 12 states, including Lagos 39, Kano 29, Ogun 24, Bauchi 18, Kaduna 15, Sokoto 12, Katsina eight, Borno seven, Nasarawa three, Adamawa two, and Oyo one.

Its Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, however, brought good news, saying the agency was excited by the emerging successful clinical trials of Remdesivir in the United States of America and that efforts were being made to access it for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in Nigeria.

But in Kano, Gwarzo said the virus was the cause of the multiple deaths that had
ravaged the ancient city since its first index case last month.

Although the state Governor, Mr. Abdullahi Ganduje, had denied that the deaths were linked to the pandemic, Gwarzo was emphatic that the virus was the culprit.

“Let me inform us that most of the deaths recorded of recent and test carried out showed that coronavirus was the cause,” the task force head said, adding: “So, before the final report, which would be ready in the next one week or few days, it is necessary for people of Kano to wake up from their slumber that this is a serious issue.”

Gwarzo, who spoke to the BBC Hausa Service, and later during the official presentation and handing over of the mobile testing laboratory the Aliko Dangote Foundation donated to Kano State government, added: “We need to know what is happening, we are successful in identifying what the problems are and secondly we are happy on the level of cooperation between the private sector and other stakeholders. Many people have come out to support the state we cannot expand our investigation until we are certain.

“We have five cogent reasons to say that the mass death recorded in Kano is associated with coronavirus.”

He listed them as the age of the deceased persons, the concentration of the people in one place and “test we have constructed which have an element of COVID-19.”

NCDC Seeks Access to Remdesivir for Treatment of Patients

Meanwhile, the NCDC has endorsed the use of Remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, saying that the result of the clinical trial has revealed that it is of immense benefits.

Ihekweazu, while featuring yesterday on a programme on Channels Television, said the result of the clinical trial of the drug had shown that it was effective in treating COVID-19 patients.

The experimental drug was at the weekend authorised by the United States regulators for emergency use against COVID-19.

The agency also explained that Nigeria could not adopt the method of testing used in Ghana as there was a price to pay for testing at top speed.

Giving details on the use of Remdesivir, Ihekweazu said it held hope for the treatment of the virus, stressing that he was happy about the clinical trials of the drug because it could be used for emergency treatment of the virus.

He stated that NCDC would discuss with regulatory authorities, particularly the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), to speed up the regulatory process for Nigerians to access the drugs.

He said: “Remdesivir is the first drug that has shown efficacy. It was tried and it did produce benefits. This one has raised hope. We have to be careful about drugs because many of them have side effects, but I am happy that the clinical trial of Remdesivir is showing a positive result.

“What we now need to do is to gain access to these drugs. It is a difficult process at the moment but we have started the conversation to enable access to Nigerians. We will speak with NAFDAC to speed up the regulatory process so that we can make these drugs available and accessible to Nigerians. So, it is the first step. That is how science works.

“Sometimes, it is slower than we want it to be and we will like it to be. It is the same for vaccines and the same for drugs.”

Also commenting on the use of Hydroxychloroquine to treat patients, he said there was no evidence that the drug was effective in treating COVID-19 patients.

Reacting to criticisms that South Africa and Ghana with smaller populations have carried out more tests than Nigeria, the NCDC boss said Nigeria could not adopt Ghana’s method because it did not suit the country’s circumstances.

“It is not right for us to adopt Ghana’s style because it does not suit our circumstances. It has a price to pay. There is a price to pay for being at top speed,” he added.

On the situation in South Africa, he said he had worked in that country for three years before relocating to Nigeria and he knew what South Africa had invested in the past 50 years.

He stated that Nigeria’s target was to carry out two million tests in the next three months.

According to him, NCDC has been building testing capacity daily.

Speaking on the reported breakthrough with herbal cure in Madagascar, Ihekweazu said he did not have the details of the breakthrough and would not recommend such an herbal cure.

“I do think there is a role for traditional medicine but I need to understand what works and what does not work before recommending for anyone to use. In my position, I have to be careful what I recommend because it is not a personal opinion but an institutional position,” he added.

Also commenting on Nigeria’s efforts to get a vaccine for the pandemic, he described vaccine development for new disease as a long term venture, adding that Nigeria is “part of a global solidarity trial.”

“We are part of the global efforts in different research objectives. They are long term objectives,” he said.

Speaking on the Infectious Diseases Bill before the House of Representatives, Ihekweazu said such a bill was long overdue but it should not be enacted in the middle of a crisis.

“The middle of a crisis is not the best time to enact a bill. Public health is very broad and is largely implemented by states and local governments. So, there is a need for broader consultation. We were not part of the consultation,” he added.

Cloth Masks Can Offer 80% Protection, Says US Study

A new study has revealed that masks made from a combination of different fabrics such as cotton, silk, chiffon, flannel can provide 80 per cent protection against infections.

The new study obtained by an online newspaper, TheCable, shows that type of fabric and its arrangement can help improve protection against viruses, including the novel coronavirus.

The research team in America’s Argonne National Laboratory found that cotton, natural silk, and chiffon provides above 50 per cent protection against viral particles in aerosols, provided they have a tight weave.

Tightly weaved layers of cotton, the most widely used material for cloth masks, “could provide over 79 per cent depending on particle size while a combination of different fabrics such as cotton silk, chiffon, flannel can provide 80 per cent filtration coverage.”

The report, titled: “Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks” has been published by the American Chemical Society.

The report added that cotton quilt laced with batting provides the best protection at 96 per cent because of the “fibrous nature of the batting aids in the superior performance at small particle sizes.”

Earlier, researchers at Netherland’s National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and Public Health England (PHE) had found that in the event of surgical mask shortage, these masks are better than no mask at all.

“Any type of general mask use is likely to decrease viral exposure and infection risk on a population level,” the Netherland report had said.

FCTA Declares Abba Kyari Body Handlers COVID-19 Negative

The FCT Administration has said the individuals exposed during the burial of the late Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, have tested negative for COVID-19 and have reunited with their families.

The Acting Secretary, Human and Health Services Secretariat, FCTA, Dr. Mohammed Kawu, in a statement yesterday, said tests carried out on the individuals for the virus after their 14 days of isolation all came back negative.

Some highly placed government officials also attended the burial ceremony at Gudu Cemetery, Abuja on April 19 where all guidelines on social distancing were violated.

Lagos Discharges 22 More Patients

The Lagos State government yesterday announced the discharge of 22 COVID-19 patients while three others died.

The state Ministry of Health, via its Twitter handle, @LSMOH, said the state had now recorded a total of 28 COVID-19 deaths and discharged 247 patients who had recovered from the infection.

Lagos Issues Guidelines on Easing of Lockdown

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, yesterday issued guidelines on the resumption of movements in the state after the lockdown.

Sanwo-Olu said all movements in and out of the state were prohibited, except for people carrying out essential services or transporting essential products such as agro products, petroleum products, relief items, construction materials and registered courier services.

“All public servants in the entire Lagos State public service are to remain at home tomorrow, May 4, 2020.

“From Tuesday, May 5, 2020, only critical staff on Grade Levels 15 and above, and who have also been specifically adjudged as critical staff by their accounting officers will be expected to go to work,” he added.

He explained that all frontline workers across all levels are, however, expected to continue working.

“In the same vein, all staff of the local government and local council development area offices in the state are expected to remain at home at this time, unless directed by their LGA or LCDA chairmen.

“All open markets and stores will be allowed to operate on alternate days between the hours of 9 am and 3 pm. Markets and stores selling food items will open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while markets and stores selling all other items, excluding food, will open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” he stated.

According to him, all civil servants on levels 15 and above living in Ogun State should adhere to the order of Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, restricting their movements within Ogun State till May 9.

He said the goal was to enable the state to achieve a balance between the protection of lives and the sustenance of livelihoods.

The governor said: “We have been able to take advantage of the lockdown to significantly boost our capacity to contain the threat of this pandemic and to roll out a robust package of palliative measures to you the good people of Lagos State.
“We opened new isolation facilities in Oniru and Gbagada, adding 120 beds to our capacity. We also opened a new testing facility at the Lagos State Bio-bank, while also scaling up our active community case search by opening sample collection centres across the state.

“The success of our efforts at ramping up testing is the reason why we are seeing an escalation in the number of cases in Lagos State.”

Aliko Dangote Foundation Sponsors Test Laboratory in Kano

The Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF) has contracted 54Gene, a molecular diagnostics company specialising in research and diagnostics, to immediately set up a 400 test/day capacity laboratory in Kano State.

54Gene is accredited by the NCDC and has already set up laboratories in Lagos and Ogun States.

The laboratory, which was inaugurated yesterday in Kano, will start with a testing capacity of 400 tests a day, increasing to 1,000 tests daily by May 10.
The laboratory will be set up at Muhammadu Buhari Hospital in Kano, where an isolation centre is currently operational.

The President/Chief Executive of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, said the foundation was supporting the federal government’s COVID-19 containment efforts in Kano State.

According to him, the new investment in support of increasing nationwide testing comes in addition to ADF’s support through the Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID).

“CACOVID is already setting up a 310- bed isolation centre at Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano. We are extending that capacity by another 150 beds at the Abubakar Imam Urology Centre in Kano, which is being converted into an isolation centre now.

These two centres will be operational pending the final validation by the infection prevention and control team, which we expect will be completed in the coming days,” he said.

Dangote pledged the foundation’s commitment to reduce the number of lives lost to diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola and other deadly viruses in the state.

He said the foundation would not relent in using its investments in health, education and economic empowerment to help lift people out of sickness and poverty.

Zamfara Emir Dies While in Isolation

The Emir of Kaura-Namoda in Zamfara State, Alhaji Mohammed Asha, died yesterday in isolation.

He was said to have died of suspected COVID-19-related complications.

The Publicity Secretary for the Control and Prevention of COVID-19 in the state, Mr. Mustafa Jafaru, said the late traditional ruler had been in isolation at Yariman Bakura Specialist Hospital, Gusau.