By Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SSG) and Chairman, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, Boss Mustapha, on Tuesday disagreed with the Director General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, when he called on the House of Representatives to amend the Quarantine Act.
Mustapha, while briefing the House in Abuja on the progress made by the taskforce in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus pandemic, insisted that the current Quarantine Act needs to be updated due to the unique nature of emerging infections such as Covid-19, the dramatic impact this has on sectors beyond just health and the urgency required by the taskforce to deal with such pandemic.
The recent move by the House to repeal the Quarantine Act and enact the Control of Infectious Diseases bill had stirred controversy last Thursday.
The bill, which scaled second reading before it was stood down on Tuesday, has 82 sections and seeks to strengthen NCDC and make it more proactive and not just reactive and function when there is an outbreak was sponsored by the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.
However, the DG of NCDC, while commenting on the bill had said while he takes the propositions in good faith, he would advise against a rushed legislation during this time of crisis.
But Mustapha, who appeared before the House alongside other members of the taskforce, stressed the need to strengthen legislative framework for dealing with future public health emergencies in a changing world.
He stated further that post-Covid-19 era is going to be a challenging one, adding that as a country, there was need to prepare for what would be major changes to the country’s long-term social interactions, events, personal contacts and economic prospects.
Mustapha said: “Just as important is the need to provide a strengthened legislative framework for dealing with future public health emergencies in a changing world. The current Quarantine Act needs to be updated due to the unique nature of emerging infections such as COVID-19, the dramatic impact this has on sectors beyond just health and the urgency required to deal with such pandemic.
“The president exercised his powers under sections 3 and 4 of the Quarantine Act LFN 2004 to restrict movement of persons and goods in Lagos, Ogun and FCT. Although this intervention generated heated debate in the legal circles, with insinuations that it may be in direct conflict with section 44(1) of the constitution and article 14 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ratification and enforcement) Act, the legal basis of the intervention is not debatable. However, the Act needs to be adaptable to the changing nature of human behaviour and interaction.”
Mustapha lamented that Kano is fast emerging as the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic in the North, but added that the taskforce has been working closely with the state government and key stakeholders to identify the issues and seek immediate solutions.
He stressed that a key weakness of the Kano Covid-19 response was the lack of adequate manpower for surveillance and contact tracing, adding that the taskforce has mobilised resources from across the health sector including multilaterals, bilaterals, MDAs and the private sector to push through an accelerated expansion of the Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) from 21 to 50.
Mustapha said that working with partners, the taskforce would establish at least one sample collection centre and two facilitators per local government area, while also embarking on a seven-day motorised campaign across major urban areas in Kano.
He disclosed that the federal government will in due course announce significant additional material and technical resources to complement the state government’s efforts in combating the Covid-19 pandemic in Kano.
Mustapha however said that these activities carried out by the taskforce are applicable nationwide but more emphasis has been placed on the epicentres where community spread has commenced with a threat to family transmission on the increase.
According to him, “As part of the PTF’s mandate, we are working towards strengthening the country’s public health emergency preparedness through system building and infrastructure development. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fragile status of our health system and the near absence of the structures or building blocks necessary for the public health protection of our communities.
“In this regard, we plan to establish state-of-the-art intensive care units and isolation/treatment centres in each of the 36 states plus FCT. We will also upgrade molecular laboratory facilities across the country and ensure that a Covid-19 testing centre is available in every state through the utilization of existing GeneXpert machines.”
He noted that this scale up of infrastructure would also require additional staff training and a review of existing manpower needs for the country, adding that there’s no doubt that a strengthened and well-resourced health system would not only place the country in a better position to deal with future emerging infections such as Lassa fever but would also provide a solid foundation for medical research and development.
While speaking, the NCDC DG apologised to the House over his comment of the movie by the House to amend the Quarantine Act.
Asked if he still think that the Act should not be amended during the crisis, he assured the lawmakers that the taskforce looks forward to a new infectious disease bill or a new public health bill that brings together the functions of all the agencies, defines responsibilities that leads all the agencies in a stronger position to protect the health of Nigerians.
“Mr. Speaker I am sorry if this comment caused any offence, but you could not have a stronger ally in the repeal of our legislative framework in the fight against infectious diseases in the country,” he said.