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Coronavirus forces Reps to consider vacation

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• Urge release of more funds to tackle disease • NCDC boss in self-isolation after China trip
• ‘Why African countries are at severe risk’ • Pope undergoes check, tests negative

The coronavirus outbreak made the House of Representatives yesterday to resolve to suspend plenary for 14 days.The resolution followed the adoption of a motion of urgent public importance on “The need for emergency response and tackling of deadly coronavirus (COVlD-19) in Nigeria” moved by Idem Unyime, and granting of the prayer by Ndudi Elumelu.

While contributing to the motion, Elumelu proposed an amendment to the prayers of Unyime, calling on the National Assembly to suspend plenary for two weeks to also enable the lawmakers to sensitise their constituents on the outbreak of the disease.

Presenting the motion, Unyime noted that the Federal Government needed to move swiftly and intensify collaborations with health agencies to tackle the challenge at this early stage of the outbreak.He said that with the situation of health facilities in Nigeria, the virus, if not properly checked, would easily be transmitted within the larger population and might lead to a wider catastrophe.

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“The House is aware that the coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

“The haemorrhagic disease was first diagnosed in the Chinese city of Wuhan, with a population of 11 million residents, and has spread to over 58 countries, still counting since that time. The coronavirus has killed nearly 3,000 people and infected over 80.000 globally. The outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020 and was immediately reported to the World Health Organization Country Office in China. The main reason for the declaration of concern is that the virus will spread to countries with a weaker health system.”

Adopting the motion, the House directed the leadership of the National Assembly to set up an ad-hoc committee to interface with the executive arm of government and health agencies with a view to checking the disease.The lawmakers urged the Federal Government to release more emergency funds and create an enabling environment and support to the Federal Ministry of Health, agencies and other relevant institutions .

They also called for an immediate activation of all centres established and designated for the treatment and management of Ebola cases in the country for the management of suspected cases and victims of COVID-19.

However, the house is yet to announce the date the suspension of plenary will commence. The anxiety over coronavirus in the country took a curious dimension yesterday as news broke that the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, has reportedly been quarantined over possible infection by the disease.

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However, the NCDC boss tweeted last night that “I am well and have continued my duties from home since my return from China as part of the WHO-China Mission on #COVID19.”

He said that the rumour that he was sick in quarantine was “obviously false.”

Ever since the illness was diagnosed in an Italian who arrived in Lagos, the country’s largest city and one of the continent’s biggest cities, Nigeria has been proactive, but there are fears that the virus could sweep the region. Ihekweazu was quarantined shortly after his return from China to Nigeria.

The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, who made the disclosure yesterday when he briefed the leadership of the Senate on the level of preparedness by the ministry, said the NCDC boss would remain quarantined in one of the rooms in his house for 14 days.

Ihekweazu had visited China on the request of the Chinese government to understudy and conduct research on the behavioural pattern of coronavirus. He was immediately quarantined as soon as he returned into the country.

The minister said the action was in line with the safety procedures by the Federal Ministry of Health.

On Nigeria’s level of preparedness, he said the ministry had established isolation centres in four cities, Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt, where Nigeria has international airports.He said these were in addition to scanners discretely mounted at the four airports that capture body temperature without the passengers being aware.

The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, raised concern about the idea of having only four isolation centres.

Meanwhile, the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and former senior official of the United States (US) CDC, Dr. John Nkengasong, has warned that African countries are at severe risk of COVID-19 if the virus is not contained.

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Nkengasong, who spoke to the Cable News Network (CNN) about the risk posed by coronavirus to African countries yesterday said “Nigeria faces a stiff test and it seems, at this stage, that they passed.”

On the danger facing Africa now with the novel coronavirus, he said: “I think there are two dangers now. The first is our ability to detect quickly, and the second is the ability to contain it. Nigeria was able to detect the virus quickly, I would say. The coming days will tell us if the containment strategy is right. The contacts of an individual who tests positive must be isolated and their contacts traced quickly.”

On why some countries in Africa are very susceptible to this particular disease, Nkengasong said: “Earlier on, particularly at the start of this outbreak, there were certain countries that had direct flights to China. That is Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius and South Africa. Those were the first countries with high risk, and most of those countries stopped flying to China. But Ethiopian Airlines is still continuing, though they have reduced to two flights a day going to China.

“Then you have the big countries like Nigeria. They don’t have direct flights, but they have many people going from there to China. Then you have countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is a large country and we have a current Ebola outbreak and conflict there. Countries like the DRC have fragile systems, and they are very vulnerable without rapid detection and containment.”

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Nkengasong explained why Africa should be concerned about the virus despite the fact that the impact is said to be mild for most people on the continent.

“We have learned a lot by what is happening in China. The first is the spread of the virus, how quickly it spreads there. So, even if it is mild, it infects so many people, and the mortality rate is at two percent. That is a large number of people.”

On why coronavirus is dangerous, he said: “It is for several reasons. Our health systems are not strong enough to provide those respiratory support systems that are required to care for patients that are infected, as we have seen in China.

“There are very few countries in Africa with those systems in place in their hospitals to care for a large number of patients. They may be able to care for some patients, but not for a large number of patients if they are overwhelmed, like we are seeing in China.”

On what would happen if Africa was not able to stop the virus, he said: “We have to. We don’t have a choice, we have to scale up our ability to train many people on infection prevention and control, to enhance the screening at our points of entry as quickly as possible to cascade the diagnostics into the country so that our strategy continues to be rapid detection and rapid containment.

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“We have to stop it because there is no way our health systems will be rapidly improved to be able to cope with a large outbreak, like we are seeing in China.”

The Head of Catholic Church, Pope Francis was tested for coronavirus after missing service with ‘mystery illness.’

According to an online publication, DailyStar, the pope was ordered to undergo testing after coughing his way through an Ash Wednesday service during his Angelus prayer at St Peter’s Square in Vatican City, as he revealed his “closeness to those who are ill with coronavirus.”

The 83-year-old told worshippers: “I wish, again, to express my closeness to those who are ill with coronavirus and to health-care workers who are caring for them.”It was reported that the test came back negative.

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