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Nigeria not prepared for coronavirus, Senate warns

By Chukwuma Muanya, Suleimon Salau, Shakirah Adunola, Adaku Onyenucheya (Lagos) and Azimazi Momoh Jimoh (Abuja)
28 February 2020   |   5:20 am
Despite assurances from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Senate yesterday rejected the preventive measures being taken against the dreaded coronavirus (COVID-19) by the agency, describing them as poor.

• All suspected cases tested negative, says NCDC. • Four laboratories set
to diagnose COVID-19. • Saudi Arabia suspends entry into kingdom

Despite assurances from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Senate yesterday rejected the preventive measures being taken against the dreaded coronavirus (COVID-19) by the agency, describing them as poor.

The Chief Executive Officer and Director General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian yesterday that the Federal Government was seriously concerned and prepared to contain the virus because with the country’s large population, an outbreak would have global health security implications.

The epidemiologist also said that Nigeria was one of the first countries to recognise the risk and started planning the response for COVID-19, and the Federal Government had provided funds which would be used to rapidly scale up capacity at identified treatment centres. He also said that four laboratories in Nigeria could diagnose COVID-19 with six hours turnaround time.

When asked what the NCDC was doing about the suspected case at a Lagos hospital, Ihekweazu told The Guardian: “There is nothing to do. He was negative. All the furore in the media is completely pointless.”On whether the country has suspected cases, the NCDC boss said: “As at February 26, 2020, five suspected cases had been tested in Nigeria. All the cases were negative for COVID-19.

“Currently, four laboratories in Nigeria can test for COVID-19. In addition to the NCDC National Reference Laboratory in Abuja, this capacity has been developed at the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital; Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital and African Centre for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in Ede, Osun State.

“The laboratories to diagnose COVID-19 in Nigeria have the required equipment, reagents and human resource to test cases with six hours 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 during outbreaks of Lassa fever, yellow fever and monkey pox and we have continued to improve on this.”

But the Senate alleged that the Federal Ministry of Health and other relevant agencies were taking things for granted, warning that Nigeria could not afford to be caught unawares before waking up to take the right preventive steps.Adopting a motion sponsored by the Deputy Senate Leader, Ajayi Boroface, the upper legislative chamber charged its committee on health to put pressure on the health ministry and other related agencies to ensure that the right thing is done.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan, said: “While the Federal Ministry of Health and the associated agencies may be doing their best, this best is not good enough and we should not take anything for granted.“We must be prepared. We must take all the necessary measures at our ports – airports, seaports. If someone is coming from China, he should be quarantined, not self- isolation.

“I urge the committees on primary healthcare and health to engage with the Federal Ministry of Health once again. We want to see every possible effort done in our airports or seaport.”Opening the debate on the matter earlier, Boroface, who introduced the motion through Order 43 of the Senate Standing Rule, narrated his experience on a visit to South Africa and compared it to Nigeria, submitting that Nigeria was yet to wake up.

“I was in South Africa on Friday, I came back yesterday. Because of the issue of coronavirus, every country in the world is taking preventive measures because the wisdom is that prevention is better than cure. In South Africa, we were not allowed to leave the aircraft for good 30 minutes. Officers of the medical corps came into the aircraft and screened everybody before we were allowed out, but I arrived yesterday at the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport and there was no screening.

“All we were given is a sheet of paper to indicate whether we were sick and whether we have been to one country or the other and how we will be contacted if there is an emergency. How will you try me? How do you know if I have fallen sick? This is very frightening.“Something has to be done to ensure that we do not give way to a situation which we will not be able to control. Countries that have adequate medical facilities are working hard to ensure that they contain the spread of coronavirus. From what I saw yesterday, I am afraid.”

Also speaking on the suspected case in Lagos, the Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, told journalists, yesterday: “The likelihood of COVID-19 infection in this particular patient was very low and the conclusion of investigations and sophisticated testing confirms that there is no case of coronavirus in Lagos State as of now.”

Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has temporarily suspended entry to the kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque.The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Saudi Arabia suspended the entry of tourist visa holders coming from countries where the new coronavirus is spreading dangerously, according to the criteria determined by the competent health authorities in the kingdom.

The ministry, which said that the health authorities in Saudi Arabia were closely following the developments of the new coronavirus, affirmed the keenness of the government through those authorities to implement the approved international standards and support the efforts of countries and international organisations, especially the World Health Organization, to stop the virus from spreading.