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Goverment warns against travelling to China as Coronavirus spreads

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• Operators, airport authority increase surveillance
• U.S. Japan, S’ Korea, others evacuate citizens from China
• ‘Why Nigeria won’t close borders to returning Chinese nationals’

Aviation regulatory agencies yesterday stepped up surveillance across operating airlines and international airports nationwide in a bid to contain any case of the Coronavirus pandemic.The Federal Government went further to urge Nigerians nursing travel plans to China to jettison them now until further notice, except under an extremely essential circumstance.

The government also advised all persons arriving from China or any country that has a major disease outbreak to self-isolate by staying indoors in their homes for at least two weeks.The government’s position was made known after the resumed Federal Executive Council Council (FEC) meeting. Earlier, the Federal Government assured Nigerians of its readiness to strengthen surveillance at five international airports in the country to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

The five international airports are in Enugu, Lagos, Rivers, Kano and the FCT.Addressing State House correspondents after nine hours of council deliberations presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire urged Nigerians to delay their travel plans to that China until all issues relating to the outbreak of the Coronavirus are adequately addressed.

The regulatory body, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), subsequently put all airline operators, Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP) and Aerodrome Operators on the alert.

The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) also intensified primary screening of all arriving passengers at international airports in Lagos and Abuja. Passengers with basic signs are referred to secondary screening, to ensure that the highly contagious disease is not let into the country.Yesterday, the United States evacuated 201 Americans from Wuhan, the epicentre of the Coronavirus outbreak in China. The passengers, including diplomats and businesspeople, underwent medical screening at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, local authorities said.

Other countries that have evacuated or plan to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan include France, South Korea, Japan, Morocco, Germany, Kazakhstan, Britain, Canada, Russia, the Netherlands, Myanmar and Australia. NCAA Acting Director General Capt. Sidi Abdullahi, in a letter to service providers, called for a high level of vigilance by airlines, especially those operating international and regional flights, all designated point of entries (POEs), and the travelling public.

In the letter, the NCAA mandated Pilots in Command (PIC) of aircraft to report to the Air Traffic Control (ATC) any suspected cases of communicable disease on board an aircraft in line with Nigerian Civil Regulation Rules (Nig. CARs).

“Where there is a suspected case of communicable disease on board an aircraft, the aircrew is to fill the aircraft General Declaration (Gen Dec) in line with Nig. CARs 18.8.17.4 and Annex 8 of International Health Regulations (IHR 2005). A completed aircraft General Declaration is to be submitted to the Port Health Services (PHS) on arrival at the designated point of entry.

“Sick passengers on board an aircraft would be required to fill a Passenger Locator form in line with Nig.CARs 18.8.22.5. The completed Passenger Locator Forms are to be submitted to Port Health Services (PHS) on arrival at the designated point of entry.

“Airlines are to have onboard the appropriate number of First Aid Kits, Universal Precaution kits and Emergency Medical kits according to the provisions of Nig.CARs 7.9.1.11 and 7.9.1.12. Airlines are to update the knowledge of their crewmembers in the handling of communicable disease on board an aircraft.“Passengers should be encouraged to self-report if they feel ill. Airlines are to contact Port Health Services for clearance before importing human remains into the country.”

The Regional Manager of FAAN, South West Zone, Victoria Shin-Aba, said primary screening was ongoing, with temperature monitoring of all arriving passengers.Passengers with symptoms like fever, jaundice, skin rash, persistent diarrhea, persistent cough or difficulty in breathing, complaints of headache, neck stiffness, decreased consciousness, lethargy, unexplained bleeding and persistent vomiting are referred to further screening.

“If there is an obvious public health threat, the passenger is transferred to the designated hospital i.e. the Lagos State Mainland Hospital, following appropriate standard protocols for further evaluation.

“Passengers who are exposed may be in the incubation period when they enter the country. Collaboration and observance of basic infection prevention and control measures by stakeholders are important and are being strengthened. There is a plan to re-train stakeholders,” she said.

Similarly, the Federal Government, through the Port Health Service, placed vessels from some Asian countries especially China, Japan, Thailand and South Korea on strict surveillance.A memo issued by Port Health Services to stakeholders on the outbreak of the virus reads in part: “Port Health Services wishes to notify all port users, agencies and stakeholders of the outbreak of Coronavirus in China, Thailand, South Korea and Japan.

“That any vessel coming to Nigeria through the above-named countries must notify the Port Health Services 48 hours before arrival to forestall any outbreak of this virus in Nigeria,”

The Director of Port Health Services at the Lagos Ports Complex Apapa, Olokodana Abisola, confirmed the development, adding that agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Plant Quarantine Services and the Nigeria Immigration Service have been put on red alert.

This came as the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) yesterday said Nigeria would not be closing her borders against Chinese nationals returning from the lunar new year celebration because the Federal Government has put in place necessary measures to ensure the detection of the virus or any other disease.

Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the service, Sunday James, disclosed this while answering questions from The Guardian on the possibility of a border closer and what was being done to prevent the virus from coming into the country.

“Fundamental international relations do not permit any country to close her borders to any group of persons or a country without any diplomatic law to that effect,” he said.

Also, the Airport Council International (ACI) World, an association of international airport authorities, issued a bulletin urging airport operators and authorities to develop a plan, including aspects such as communication, screening, entry or exit controls and coordination with the health authority. ACI-World stated that relevant information regarding the disease and symptoms should be shared with passengers using social media, radio and signage in the airport.

ACI-World Director General, Angela Gittens, said: “The recommendations are designed to reduce exposure to an infectious agent at airports and to improve the response to health-related emergencies by establishing standards and procedures for rapid decision-making and action.”

The chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, further advised Nigerians living in China to be wary of the virus by taking necessary medical precautions. She also urged them to stay indoors to avoid contacting the killer infection.In a statement by Abdur-Rahman Balogun, Head of Media of the commission, Dabiri-Erewa said the Nigerian mission in Beijing was in touch with Nigerians in Wuhan.

According to her, the warning became imperative because there is no specific medication or vaccine for the virus.The death toll from the Coronavirus and Lassa fever pandemic (in Nigeria), meanwhile, has skyrocketed. Chinese authorities, yesterday, said the total number of deaths from Coronavirus, which causes flu-like illness, has risen from 106 to 132, while the number of confirmed cases is 6,059.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also announced its first four cases of the Wuhan Coronavirus, marking the first time the disease has been seen in the Middle East.Four people from the same family travelling to the UAE from Wuhan, the locked-down city at the centre of the crisis, have been taken into hospital after becoming ill. How the family managed to travel out of Wuhan and all the way to the Middle East remains unknown. Dubai has the world’s third busiest airport.

In Nigeria, the death toll from Lassa fever rose to 41 out of 95 confirmed cases, even as the virus spread to 19 states.According to the Lassa fever Situation Report, Epi Week 04: 20-26 January, 2020, released yesterday by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), “In Week 04, the number of new confirmed cases has increased from 81 in Week 3, 2020 to 95 cases. These were reported from 19 states (Ondo, Edo, Ebonyi, Enugu, Kano, Borno, Nasarawa, Kogi, Rivers, Abia, Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Delta, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, Osun and Ogun).

The report noted that the number of deaths increased and that the overall Case Fatality Rate (CFR) for 2020 is (15.9 per cent), which is lower than the CFR for the same period in 2019 (19.7 per cent).

According to the NCDC, 19 states recorded at least one confirmed case across 60 local government areas. Of all confirmed cases, 89 per cent are from Edo (38 per cent), Ondo (38 per cent) and Ebonyi (11 per cent). The centre noted that the predominant age group affected is 11-40 years. The male to female ratio for confirmed cases is 1:1. It added that the number of suspected cases has increased but is lower than the numbers reported in 2019.According to the report, five health care workers were affected in the Week 04. A breakdown showed four of the health workers are from Kano, Taraba and Borno.

The NCDC further said the National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has been activated to coordinate response activities across states. It noted that Rapid Response Teams have been deployed to support response activities in five states and that five molecular laboratories for Lassa fever testing in the NCDC network are working full capacity to ensure that all samples are tested and results provided within the shortest turnaround time.

The Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had on Tuesday met President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing. They shared the latest information on the Coronavirus outbreak and reiterated their commitment to bringing it under control.

Accompanied by WHO Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai and Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme Dr. Mike Ryan, Tedros met State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi and Minister of Health Ma Xiaowei.

The National Health Commission presented China’s strong public health capacities and resources to respond and manage respiratory disease outbreaks. The discussions focused on continued collaboration on containment measures in Wuhan, public health measures in other cities and provinces, conducting of further studies on the severity and transmissibility of the virus, and continued sharing of data and biological material.

Both sides agreed that WHO would send international experts to visit China as soon as possible, to work with Chinese counterparts on increasing understanding of the outbreak and guiding global response efforts.

Also, the Chinese Consular General in Lagos, Chu Maoming, assured Nigeria and the rest of the world that China attaches great importance to the eradication of Coronavirus. “We will fight the disease until we see that it is defeated. We will not rest on our oars. We have full confidence that with the support of Nigeria and other nations, the virus would soon be a thing of the past,” Maoming said during the first Chinese New Year Temple Fair in Lagos last Saturday.


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