…To conduct 50,000 tests per state
…Easing lockdown could lead to spike in infections
…Says virus remains potent, virulent, dangerous
…Moves to shield Kogi, C/River, Yobe from infection
….Chinese medical experts test negative —Ehanire
By Omeiza Ajayi
United States President, Donald Trump, has assured Nigeria of greater support in its fight against COVID-19, promising to supply more ventilators to Nigeria to support its national response.
The promise came as the Federal Government, yesterday, stated its resolve to conduct two million COVID-19 tests in the next three months, with an average of 50,000 tests in each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
The government also explained the rationale behind its decision to ease the lockdown imposed on some parts of the country in the wake of the outbreak of the pandemic, saying while it was necessary to gradually return the country to a moderated daily life, the virus remains very potent, virulent and dangerous.
It, however, expressed concerns about a possible spike in infection rate, and that experience drawn from other countries where the lockdown had been eased, showed a low level of compliance with safety protocols and the attendant rise in infections.
The government also announced that Chinese medical experts, who had been on quarantine since they arrived Nigeria over two weeks ago, have tested negative for the virus.
These were some of the disclosures at yesterday’s briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who spoke about the pledge by the US, said President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier in the day spoken with President Trump at the behest of the American President.
He said: “President Muhammadu Buhari today (yesterday) had a phone conversation with President Donald Trump at the request of the American President. The conversation centred on Nigeria’s response to COVID-19.
“President Buhari used the opportunity to brief the American President on the steps Nigeria is taking to contain the spread of the disease.
“On his part, President Trump assured that the United States stands in solidarity with Nigeria in this difficult time and promised to send ventilators to support the country in its fight against the pandemic. President Trump also extends his best regards to the people of Nigeria.”
2 million tests
Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu, who explained that the reagents being used for a single test costs between $15 and $20, said the country was, however, targeting two million tests in the next three months.
He also spoke on the need to protect states like Kogi, Cross River and Yobe, which have not recorded any positive case of the virus.
Ihekwuazu said: “By discouraging interstate travels, which was what the President announced on Monday, our aim is to limit transmission to areas where cases have not been reported. Right now, there are four states in Nigeria where we haven’t confirmed a single case.
‘’Our goal right now is to avoid a single case in any of those states. Our goal is to avoid transmission, to avoid infection and to keep the states with no case or few cases exactly that way.
“We have learned from other countries that the only way to do this, and it sounds more counter-intuitive, is to test more people. The laboratory strategic group that is responding to this outbreak has set for itself a target of testing two million people in the next three months.
‘’This is a very ambitious target. We are working very hard with our development partners and all our friends to equip our laboratories to be able to do this. It is going to cost us a lot of money but we cannot do this without a lot of collaboration from everyone.
“In countries that have achieved a lot more in terms of testing, like in South Africa that we always refer to, they have tested a lot more as a proportion of their population. We are lagging behind but now we have to catch up.”
Explaining government’s decision to ease the lckdown, Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, said: “The relaxation of the lockdown is to enable us gradually return to our daily lives but in a moderated manner.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently altered our ways of life and we must begin to learn how to adjust to this new reality.
“This relaxation does not in any way imply that the danger has passed. The virus is still potent, virulent and dangerous. We must remain very vigilant and careful. We must take responsibility for our actions. We must commit to a collective victory over COVID-19.’’
Risk of more infections
Mustapha, however, said with the lockdown eased, the country was moving to a phase where Nigerians have to be more responsible to avert a possible spread of the virus.
He said: “Mr President was very categorical about the fact that it is a difficult decision that we have to take. We considered all options and I have said it many times that COVID-19 is not only ravaging our health but also our wealth.
“It is very important that we acknowledge the fact that the next phase we are going into is a very serious phase. It is a phase of personal responsibility and each of us would have to take that personal responsibility.
‘’If you read up the literature of previous pandemics in the world, you would be minded and guided that this is not the time to party.
‘’This is the time for each of us to take personal responsibility and the only way we can take personal responsibility is to take heed of the advisories, the medical advisories of keeping social distance, of personal hygiene, wearing masks, avoiding unnecessary travels and unnecessary visitations, because what will happen to everyone of us going forward will depend on what we do.”
Fear of increase in number of infections
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, on his part, expressed concerns that the number of infections in the country could increase with the decision to ease the lockdown, saying experience had shown that people usually relax their safety protocols, thinking the worst was over.
On the rising number of positive cases in the country, Ehanire said: “They are evidence of improved testing, but also stronger signs of community transmission. The highly propagated social measures like distancing and postponement of all non-essential travels have had only limited success.
‘’They must, therefore, also be a reminder that we need to redouble our efforts to comply with advisories, especially as restrictions have been eased. Much more stringent compliance will be required.
“Yes, once you relax a lockdown, the experience shown in various countries is that when you relax a lockdown or remove it, the cases go up because people begin to feel free and begin to do those things which you told them not to do.
‘’That was why I appealed very strongly to all citizens to maintain the advisory, even more now than before because the more the restrictions are removed, the more the compliance should actually be, so that we do not begin to suffer a reversal of the gains we have made so far.
‘’We have made some gains and if liberty is taken for granted, then we are really at risk of the figures going higher than we envisaged. So, it can happen if there is low compliance and I want to also appeal to community leaders and gatekeepers, religious leaders and political leaders to ensure there is compliance with all the advisories that have been given.
“The Ministry of Health has set up a Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee, made up of eminent Nigerian virologists and headed by Prof. Tomori, public health experts, Infectious disease and diagnostic experts and others, to study the evolution and development of the COVID-19 outbreak and the responses in Nigeria and advise on the national strategy and action plan, using lessons learned as we go along, and those learned from strategies in place across the globe.
‘’This will help us to identify and adopt the promising strategies and align our plans with best practices and advisories.
Chinese experts test negative
“As for the Chinese persons who came in, the tests have been done after their 14-day quarantine. All of them were negative.’’
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