18 suspected cases of Coronavirus identified so far in Nigeria —Ihekweazu, NCDC DG

Coronavirus is now a scare to the world. Why is the spread so rapid, compared to other diseases?
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is caused by a strain of coronavirus that has not been seen previously in humans. We are still learning more about the virus and how it spreads. How easily a virus spreads from person-to-person can vary. Some viruses spread easily, like measles, while other viruses do not spread as easily.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread mainly from person-to-person. It is spread between people who are in close contact with one another through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. We are still learning more about the spread, but it is important that we focus on the facts. While a vaccine is being developed, you are at less risk if you practice good personal and respiratory hygiene. This includes handwashing, avoiding contact with people with a cough and coughing in your elbow instead of in the air. Most of these measures are in the public health advisory developed and widely disseminated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

Some reports say coronavirus does not spread rapidly in hot temperature. How true is this?
The warmer it gets, the more difficult the conditions are for many viruses. However, because the virus causing COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been seen previously, we cannot reach a conclusion now. It is important that all countries continue to prepare and respond accordingly, despite their climate.

A report said coronavirus can spread through bank notes. How true is this? Can the virus also spread through refrigerated or frozen foods?
Some coronaviruses can live on surfaces for days, but not much is known about the new coronavirus’ ability to survive on surfaces. It is important to properly clean and disinfect surfaces at home, workplace, etc. It is also important to wash your hands with soap and running water or use a hand sanitiser if water is not immediately available.

NCDC is in charge of disease control. What steps has the agency taken so far to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country?
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has been leading a multi-sectoral National Coronavirus Preparedness Group. This group was immediately escalated to an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to lead the national response on the day the first case was confirmed. Both Lagos and Ogun states have also activated their state-level EOCs to lead response activities. NCDC has deployed Rapid Response Teams to both states.
In the last one month, NCDC has conducted rapid assessments of potential treatment centres. This assessment focused on identifying gaps and developing plans to rapidly ensure that we are prepared to manage all cases. Treatment centres are located in the five priority states with international airports – Lagos, Rivers, Enugu, Kano and the Federal Capital Territory. The current case is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, Lagos.
Currently, five laboratories in Nigeria can diagnose COVID-19. In addition to the NCDC National Reference Laboratory, this capacity has been developed at the Virology Laboratory of Lagos University Teaching Hospital; Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, African Centre for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in Ede, Osun State and Nigerian Institute for Medical Research, Lagos. These laboratories have the required equipment, reagents and human resources to test cases with a six-hour turnaround time. We have also instituted a sample transportation network to ensure samples are transported from state capitals to the testing laboratories. This transportation network has been used. The government of Nigeria will continue to provide the required resources to quickly control the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria.

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With the index case of an Italian who tested positive for the virus in Lagos, do you think steps taken so far by the government and other health agencies could help to curb the spread?
The NCDC is working closely with Lagos and Ogun states to follow up with contacts of the index case. We are monitoring them for symptoms. In addition, we have ramped up our risk communications so that Nigerians are aware of the risks of COVID-19 and how to protect themselves. We continue to emphasise the need for personal and respiratory hygiene by all Nigerians.

How many suspected cases in Nigeria so far?
A total of 18 suspected cases of coronavirus have been identified so far in the country. There is no new confirmed case of coronavirus in Nigeria. The 18 people identified by the NCDC in Lagos, Ogun, Kano and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as suspected cases are the latest figure as of March 4, 2020.
Also, 78 people out of the 148 passengers that took same flight with the Italian man confirmed to have the virus have been interviewed.
These suspected cases is an operational term describing returning travellers from the five countries with ongoing transmission, who happen to have respiratory symptoms. There are many other cause of respiratory symptoms as you know. Any of us can have a “common cold” when travelling.

The gestation period of 14 days for the full manifest of Coronavirus is taken into consideration. What are steps that could be taken to ensure anyone who has contracted the virus would not spread it unknowingly.
At the moment, there is no known community transmission of COVID-19 in Nigeria. We request that travellers from countries with ongoing community transmission i.e China, Japan, Italy, Iran and South Korea, should stay in self-isolation at home for 14 days, whether they feel ill or not. If they feel ill with symptoms such as cough and breathing difficulties, they should call NCDC’s toll free number- 080097000010. It is important for us to be responsible and protect themselves and the public by adhering to this advice.

In comparison, which is deadlier, Coronavirus or Ebola?
It is important that we do not compare outbreaks or viruses as the context is different. In the countries affected across the world by COVID-19, the severity of the outbreak is determined by the population affected, sensitivity of surveillance in place and stress on the healthcare system.

You just came from the WHO monitoring of incidents in China, where your team visited Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus. Any good news from the scene of the epidemics?
There are several valuable lessons from China’s response to this outbreak. An important aspect is the whole of society approach, where both government and individuals are playing critical roles. Everyone sees the control of the outbreak as a personal responsibility and this is an important lesson for us in Nigeria. In the last 48 hours, the number of new cases in China has been less than the number of new cases outside of China.

It was even reported that you were quarantined. Do you exhibit any sign or symptoms of the virus? Why did you go into self-isolation?
In Nigeria and other countries across the world, the public health advisory is that if you return from a country with ongoing community transmission, you should remain in self-isolation, whether you feel ill or not. I have adhered to this advisory despite returning with no symptoms. I have also been tested and do not have the virus. It is important that we adhere to public health advice to keep ourselves, family, friends and the public safe.

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