COVID-19: NMA Urges Strict Enforcement of NCDC Protocols

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Innocent Ujah

•Experts predict more cases during Yuletide
•PTF seeks six-week closure of FCT social centres

Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), yesterday urged the federal government to enforce strict compliance with non-medical protocols in combating the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

NMA President, Prof. Innocent Ujah, who spoke with THISDAY against the background of the onset of the second wave of the pandemic in the country said steps must be taken to break the chain of community transmission of the virus for the country to combat the resurgence of the virus.

Ujah listed the non-medical advisories to include the wearing of face masks, frequent washing of hands, using hand sanitiser and keeping social distancing.

A renowned virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, however, blamed the discountenancing of health advisories by many Nigerians for the virus’ resurgence.

Ahead of the Yuletide, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) have issued travel advisories urging people to avoid non-essential travels, especially the usual rush by Nigerians, both Christians and non-Christians, during the season.

According to these authorities in the health sector, it will be safer for people to reduce their movement and alternatively ensure that they keep strictly to the protocol of wearing facemask when outside and ensuring social distancing at a public gathering.

After months of dropping infection data, Nigeria, in the last two weeks, started witnessing an uptick in COVID-19 confirmed cases, signalling another national health emergency.

Although authorities and experts in the health sector had warned of the possibility of Nigeria going into the second wave of COVID-19, no one actually predicted that it would come this year.

The recent spike in COVID-19 cases started December 1 when the total number of confirmed cases jumped to 281 from 145 and 82 cases the two previous days.

Since then, the figures of confirmed cases have been on the rise and between the first and second week of December, the number has gone up to 675 new cases as of December 10.

Comparatively, the present situation matched the figure recorded on July 1, when the country hit the highest daily infection rate of 790.

According to data from the NCDC, confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen by 5,618 from November 30 to December 13.

As at Sunday, the country recorded 418 cases but the drop was attributed to the usual low testing rate witnessed during weekends.

In terms of overall statistics, the country has recorded 69,255 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as at week 49 and 1,180 fatalities within the same period.

To show how fast the virus is spreading, the Nigerian Army last week suspended the annual Chief of Army Staff Conference in Abuja following reports that the General Officer Commanding 6 Division, Maj. Gen. Johnson Irefin, died from COVID-19 complications.

It issued a statement on Sunday that 26 senior officers had so far tested positive for COVID-19 out of 417 who had contact with Irefin.

Even the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, on Sunday admitted that some members of his household have tested positive for the virus.

Already, the PTF has recommended a six-week closure of event centres in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to curb the spread of the virus.

Besides, two governors, Malam Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State and Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, went into isolation over fears of the virus, with Sanwo-Olu testing positive for COVID-19.

However, Ujah told THISDAY that the current spike in COVID-19 infection was largely predictable.

He said: “It was predicted and it was expected that everyone should be prepared for it. If it was happening in other climes, other countries we will expect that it will also come to Nigeria. That is why we are preaching, appealing and advocating strict compliance with NCDC protocols.”

On whether the country is prepared for the new wave of COVID-19 infectious, Ujah said: “I think the issue is about being ready in terms of medical facilities, but what is important is the readiness to observe the non-medical protocols, such as observation of NCDC infectious disease health protocols. Are Nigerians ready in terms of compliance to use a face mask, hand sanitisers, handwashing with soap, and social distancing?

“These are preventive measures, not curative ones.

“Once we correct, disrupt or interrupt the transmission of the virus, then we will be able to stop the infection. But Nigerians did not believe in that. Many Nigerians don’t even know that COVID-19 exists. So the issue is not just the federal government being prepared but all Nigerians.

“We call on the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to up its game because this is the time we need information and education to be pushed out to the public.

“You can use the various languages to appeal to Nigerians and sensitise the public on how best to prevent the transmission of COVID-19,” he said.

On what NMA is doing, Ujah said: “As a professional body, you know our colleagues have paid the supreme price.”

He said the NMA is willing to work with government and other partners in the health sector to combat the second wave of the virus, adding that the body will be providing regular information and sensitisation of members of the public.

Speaking on the threat of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, Tomori, who chairs the inter-ministerial committee set up to review the state of intervention efforts to check the spread of the virus, said the situation was unexpected.

On whether Nigeria has finally slipped into the second wave of the pandemic, he said: “It is no longer the issue of apprehension, it has hit us. You have 791 cases in one day and 675, the next day. It is here with us already. The highest number we ever got before now was about 790 or so. But we have gotten that figure last Thursday and it has gone up further. Though, the number of cases last Sunday was less due to the fact that we don’t test much during weekends.”

According to him, with the level of increase in reported cases of new infections, especially with high profile personalities, there is no doubt that the second wave is here with us.

He added: “So, I expect that Monday and Tuesday’s figure will rise even more. You can see the stories we are hearing everywhere about governors coming down sick, military people going into isolation. The second wave is here, what else are we waiting for?”

Tomori blamed Nigerians’ refusal to obey various health advisories on how to avoid COVID-19 infection and contain the spread of the virus for the upsurge in the positive cases.

According to him, many individuals and organisations have since abandoned the adherence to non-pharmaceutical protocols approved by the NCDC.

He also criticised the government for failing to ensure that the various testing laboratories are well equipped.

PTF Seeks Six-week Closure of FCT Social Centres

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 has urged the FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Bello, to close all sites that encourage mass gathering for six weeks in the light of the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the FCT.

The National Coordinator PTF on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, gave the advice yesterday during the FCT COVID-19 Stakeholders’ Review Emergency meeting in Abuja.

He urged the FCT Administration to reactivate the COVID-19 Protocols Enforcement Task Team to stop the violation of the protocols in the territory.

The PTF also advised that mass gathering should be restricted to preferably not more than 50 persons while restaurants should only operate outdoors.

“My recommendation is that all the sites that are currently serving as attractive points for a mass gathering should be closed for the next six weeks to takeout the rise in cases during Christmas,” Aliyu said.

While pleading for the enforcement of the proposal, he urged that restaurants should not be opened during the Christmas, except they can provide takeaways to curtail mass gathering.

He said: “Our aim is to stop the super-spreader events over the next six weeks. There should be inspection teams going around Abuja to monitor and ensure compliance.

“Any business premises or markets found accepting people without wearing of facemasks and allowing people to mix anyhow in those premises should be closed.

“The same applies to shopping centres; the same applies to motor parks and other commercial premises.”

Bello had decried the non-adherence to all COVID-19 precautionary measures and protocols in the FCT.

He assured the gathering that there would be massive enforcement, noting that the objective of the emergency meeting is to review the second wave of COVID-19 that has hit the territory.