Halting COVID-19 in Nigeria

AMID the rapid spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the globe, the Federal Government, on Monday, indicated that it had no plans to impose travel restrictions on visitors from countries most affected by the pandemic. Instead, it said, it had decided to screen visitors entering the country from the countries, including China, where the disease originated last year; Japan, Iran, Italy, Germany, France, South Korea and Spain.  Addressing a press conference in Abuja on Monday, the Minister of State for Health, Dr Olorunnibe Mamora, said that the government decided to screen visitors from the eight countries after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Said the minister:  “Though we have not recorded a confirmed COVID-19 case in the last one week in Nigeria, it is important to remember that we are still at high risk like other countries. We will continue to monitor returning travellers that fit our case definition and improve our surveillance, detection and risk communications. We have carried out a review of our case definition. We have added three new countries to the existing list of five high-risk countries with widespread community transmission. Travellers from these eight countries will undertake secondary screening at the point of entry. They are also advised to self-isolate for 14 days on entry.”

Mamora added that between January 7 and March 15, 48 people who had contact with the Italian who brought the disease to Nigeria on February 24 were screened in Edo, Lagos, Ogun, Yobe, Rivers, Kano and Enugu states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). According to him, 47 people had tested negative and been cleared, one was positive (after contact with the index case) and a result was pending. Happily, though, there has been no death in the country, while the index case is said to be clinically stable. However, on Tuesday, the Lagos state government confirmed a third case of the COVID-19 in the state. This was disclosed by the state’s Commissioner of Health, Akin Abayomi. The development came on the heels of the state government’s statement that the second case is now free of the virus.

Truth be told, and as the Federal Government itself acknowledged, there is no better time than now to step up efforts to stop the spread of the disease in the country. With the parlous state of the health sector, Nigeria would certainly be devastated by the spread of the disease within its borders. Although the government deserves commendation for the efforts it has taken so far with regard to those that the index case had contact with, the truth is that much more needs to be done to ensure that Nigerians are insulated from the potentially devastating effects of the COVID-19 in the country. Even if the government has strengthened contact tracing, stockpiled reagents used in test kits and increased testing capacity, we find its advice to visitors from the eight high-risk countries “to self-isolate for 14 days on entry” diffident and preposterous. Such a provision underestimates the severity of the risks posed by these visitors at this time. The quarantine must be enforced and not left at the whims of the visitors.

The world is currently taking very drastic measures to curb the pandemic. US President Donald Trump has extended the travel ban previously in place to some of the countries badly affected by the pandemic, and President Emmanuel Macron of France has in fact  announced that Europe’s borders will be closed for 30 days. As Macron indicated, “All trips between non-European countries and the EU and the Schengen zone will be suspended for 30 days.” In Africa, Tanzania, Liberia, Republic of Benin and Somalia all confirmed their first coronavirus cases on Monday. International flights to Somalia have been suspended for two weeks. South Africa, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burkina Faso and Cameroon have all reported more cases, and are taking drastic measures, including bans on public gatherings, flight cancellations and school closures, to halt the spread of the pandemic. Nigeria must follow suit.

In this regard, it is fitting to acknowledge the advisory by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that mass gatherings of any type should be discouraged. Indeed, the National Sports Festival in Edo State has been postponed.  As the NCDC indicated, the government is close watching all types of mass gatherings, and proper authorisation must be obtained from the State Ministry of Health, where such gatherings could not be prevented. According to the NCDC, event organisers should consider using distancing measures to reduce close contact among people, for instance by providing more entry and exit points and more food points, and ensuring that hand-washing facilities (with soap and water) are readily available at entry and exit points. The State Ministry of Health should be informed of the event, and the location would be assessed by officials from the ministry to ensure safety procedures are in place. Organisers are also expected to ensure that attendees thoroughly wash their hands with soap under running water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, and avoid shaking hands, hugging and any other form of physical contact, where possible.

Religious institutions are encouraged to demonstrate hand-washing techniques before the start of prayers, ensure the provision of adequate hand-washing facilities including running water, soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, while people with symptoms such as cough and fever should not be allowed into the premises. Organisers must also provide adequate human resources for cleaning and disinfecting communal places such as ablution areas, all floors, toilets and surfaces such as door handles, chairs and church benches with disinfectant or soap, and provide adequate waste management facilities such as closed trash cans so that people dispose tissue and other waste properly.

The government must enforce these measures. It must also carry out continuous enlightenment programmes. These done, the country would have been put at a vantage position to halt the spread of the disease.



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