Coronavirus: FG facing challenges in tracking 156 passengers on index case flight ― Minister

The Federal Government declared on Monday that there have been a few challenges in tracking the 156 passengers on board the aircraft that brought the index case to the country, saying that some of them gave telephone numbers that are not working.

This is just as an information from the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Zhou Pingjian, indicated that none of the 60 Nigerians living and trapped in Wuhan, the China city where the Coronavirus disease first broke out has been infected.

Giving an update on the disease, and especially on the handling of the index case, an Italian citizen who was tested positive in Nigeria, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, also stated that it was not an absolute necessity for everybody to start putting on masks in Nigeria for now.

To this end, the minister warned that schools should not force their students to start coming to schools with mask; even as he added that the index case, who is a consultant was detailed to be in Nigeria for few days and would have left last Saturday if he had not tested positive of the virus.

The minister said: “The only one we know for sure are the number of people in the aircraft with him, 156 and those ones are being tracked and being talked to and we’re getting their cooperation. There have been a few challenges in that some people gave telephone numbers that didn’t work or numbers that are said to be switched off.

“There are some of them who probably don’t have telephones or some who are new arrivals in Nigeria, and are not yet registered with any phone company and don’t have a phone number. But there are ways in which they can be found out because the manifest will release… Some may have probably left the country again if they are just here for a day or two, but a manifest gives you a document to start with.”

Dr Ehanire, however, pointed out that the owners of the aircraft, the airline have been notified, while the embassies and airline have been notified.

The minister who added that the World Health Organization (WHO) has also been notified, said, “we are on clean slate in managing the situation.”

He emphasized that the government under his supervision would continue with the initiative to keep the public properly abreast of development and avoid misinformation and disinformation that is rampant in newspapers sometimes and in social media in particular.

On the issue of masks, he said, “we do not see an absolute necessity for everybody to be putting on masks now.”

According to the minister, “for the masks, if you want to use a mask, very fine but let me tell you that in Nigeria we have only one case and that case is in Lagos, if you are in Sokoto and you feel like using a mask right now or you are in Akwa Ibom and you feel like using a mask, well you are free to. But I personally, I am not very sure; maybe not because of the one case of Coronavirus in Lagos. But if you want to, fine, only that we do not see an absolute necessity for everybody to be putting on masks now.

“In China, it is different because it invaded the whole city, a whole town and they have to put the town on lock-down. So, the difference is that we have only one case but if the whole city is affected, the strategy won’t be the same.

“So, don’t say in China everybody is wearing a mask, therefore we must also wear masks here. The risk is not the same, the problem is not the same.”

He warned schools against forcing their students to buy and wear masks, saying, “no school should be demanding that children should bring face mask, that is not the requirement and that is not something the government has advised and individual schools cannot wake up and make demands that are not in line with general policy.

“Imagine someone has a cough and catarrh and has to do an exam, yes I can understand that such a person is given a mask. Anybody who has chronic cough or catarrh must see a doctor and stay at home but if for example, he has to be in school during exams, he should be given a mask for that purpose. But I do not see that it is necessary to as a matter of routine for everybody in school. It should not be enforced at all.”

The minister commended the response team both in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Port Health Services and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), for the ways they have jointly handled the situation

He said: “The response has been excellent. The hotel he stayed in Ikeja has been identified, all the contacts there had been interviewed and put on isolation, the room he stayed had been decontaminated and had been fumigated. Even the taxi that he went in had been treated.

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“This index case is a consultant, he came for two days, he supposed to have left the day before yesterday (Saturday) if not that this problem came up.”

Also on the safety of Nigerians in China and especially the condition of the 60 Nigerians living in Wuhan, Dr Ehanire said: “Let me quickly add that we have seen the Chinese Ambassador two times, and he has given us the assurance that they are taking care of all Nigerians in China.

“In Wuhan itself, where this disease first appeared in China, there are about 60 Nigerians there. None of them has contracted the Coronavirus disease, they are all well. The only African who got it was from Cameroon, and he has been treated and he is well.”

The minister advised Nigerians not to panic, as he stated that as at Sunday, there is no additional confirmed case in Nigeria out of about 14 cases tested apart from the Italian visitor.

He said: “As at 1st of March, there is no new confirmed case in Nigeria. About 13 or 14 tests have been done and except that one patient, no other person has been diagnosed.

“There are 156 passengers on the manifest of the flight that brought in the index case. Port Health Services and NCDC have been supporting both the Lagos State and Ogun State governments to carry out contact tracing and other response activities. Currently, the contacts of the index case have been identified as 19 contacts in Lagos and 39 contacts in Ogun State. We are in contact with these contacts who are under supervised self-isolation and the states have provided them with temperature monitoring tools.”

Against the fear being spread that the screening of passengers at the nation’s airports was not done properly, the minister allayed such fear, saying that many of the passengers don’t know they are already screened through remote sensors while passing through the machine.

He explained that many of them were expecting to see a gun-like temperature screening tools pointed to their heads and if they don’t see this done physically, they said they are not being screened.

The minister said: “The equipment to screen passengers are there at the airports, the problem is that there are people who do not know that they are being scanned, that they are being tested and they think nothing is being done because we are using remote sensors, we are using passive temperature cages.

He added: “As far as manpower is concerned, we have enough manpower. There is standing manpower at all the airports. We also have call-up manpower, those are the ones you call up when you have a surge and you want to bring in more personnel to meet the need as situation demands.

“The collaboration between the Federal Government and the states is excellent, we still have to build it up in certain areas. But the focus is in those states where we have international airports, FCT, Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt and Kano. Though Enugu is not functional at the moment, it is included in our plans. They are working very hard at the airports to get themselves ready and prepared for the peculiarity of this particular outbreak.”

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