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Panic as 40 health workers test positive for coronavirus

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FG vows to fight maltreatment of Nigerians in China
• Tests average of 600 samples daily
• Hope rises as human trials of vaccines begin in UK, Germany
• Concerns mount overuse of chloroquine
• WHO cautions against stopping immunization services
• Envoy puts U.S. funding assistance to Nigeria at $21.4m

More than 40 health workers have tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nigeria.

This was disclosed yesterday by Health Minister Osagie Ehanire at a press briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja.

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The minister appealed to health workers to take all necessary precautions in dealing with coronavirus patients for their own safety. He said the government would continue to provide the necessary personal protective equipment for them, but that they must remain vigilant.

“Please do not try to treat patients without using adequate PPE. Frontline workers must undertake refresher training in IPC at intervals,” he said.

Ehanire said many other health workers had had to be quarantined in the past week due to exposure and were unable to join the health sector’s efforts to fight the coronavirus disease as a result.

“I urge you all to remain vigilant in the line of duty and maintain a high index of suspicion,” he appealed

The minister further disclosed that the government had tested 9,522 samples since Nigeria’s index case was detected in February.

According to him, the country is currently testing an average of 600 samples a day in all 13 labs, but operational efficiency will be improved upon to step up testing.

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At the briefing, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, said that the recent racial discrimination against Nigerians living in China was a red line and the Federal Government would fight it to the very end.
“We are extremely disappointed with the treatment meted out to our people because we have good relations with the government and people of China. When the outbreak in Wuhan started, we showed solidarity with China and went with the World Health Organisation (WHO) advisory not to place travel ban but Nigeria is disappointed and we are deeply wounded by what has happened to Nigerians and other Africans in China. We have been engaging the Chinese government at various levels, and have made a threat that Nigeria will under no circumstance accept the racial discrimination against Nigerians and Africans in China. Though they denied it we have seen videos and reports which are unacceptable, we are working together with other African countries to come up with definitive measures that will be taken,” Onyema said.

Meanwhile, there is hope for a ‘cure’ for the novel coronavirus as the United Kingdom (U.K.) and Germany, in separate studies, yesterday announced the commencement of human trials of potential vaccines against the Covid-19.

The German regulatory body, Paul-Ehrlich-Institut (PEI), yesterday gave the green light for human trials of the vaccine.

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According to a report published by a journal, Advanced Science, the UK trial is being carried out at Oxford University and is the result of a joint effort by pharmaceutical giants GSK and Sanofi. It will involve 510 volunteers aged between 18 and 55 in the first phase.

Led in part by Oxford’s Jenner Institute, the U.K. vaccine candidate uses a modified chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector which is given the genetic material that encodes the novel coronavirus’ spike proteins. When the vaccine vector expresses these proteins inside the human body, the immune system is primed and ready to react to any real infection of the coronavirus.

German company BioNTech, in collaboration with Pfizer, is carrying out the trial scheduled to start at the end of April. This is a different candidate that is known as an RNA vaccine. The trial will also involve healthy volunteers between 18 and 55 in the first phase, with the hope to include volunteers from high-risk groups in the second phase.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of BioNTech, UgurSahin, told a press conference that he expected the German trial to start collecting its first data “at the end of June or beginning of July”.

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Also, scientists developing a second coronavirus vaccine in the U.K. will soon start recruiting volunteers for clinical trials to begin in June.

A lab at Imperial College, London was yesterday pledged £22.5million by Health Secretary Matt Hancock for its efforts to make a jab to protect against COVID-19.

It plans to begin human experiments in around six weeks’ time and will follow in the footsteps of a University of Oxford project, which starts testing tomorrow.

While the Oxford vaccine will try to stimulate the immune system using a common cold virus taken from chimps, the researchers at Imperial are using droplets of liquid to carry the genetic material they need to get into the bloodstream.

Both will then work, in theory, by recreating parts of the coronavirus inside the patient and forcing their immune system to learn how to fight it.

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Hancock yesterday said his department was ‘throwing everything’ at the race for Britain to become the first country in the world to make a coronavirus vaccine and promised £44.5million of extra funding for the two universities.

Furthermore, one of the leaders of the study, Prof. Andrew Pollard, said his team planned to make one million doses of the vaccine available in the U.K. as early as September, far ahead of the 12 to 18-month schedule that has been given by scientists so far.

“That is of course if the trials starting today are successful. The PEI acknowledged in a press release that they expect more trials of vaccines candidates to take place in Germany in the next few months, all in the hopes that at least one of these vaccines works and can be produced en masse and made available globally.

“The difference between these two vaccines shows how we are still in the early stages of understanding how this virus works, but with a more diverse range of vaccines, it is hoped that eventually, we will be successful in bringing an end to this pandemic,” Pollard said.

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Professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, Sarah Gilbert, told The Times of London she was “80 per cent confident” that the vaccine being developed by her team would work. It is hoped about a million doses could be ready by September.

In a related development, scientists around the world have continued to study two drugs- chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine- for their potential as possible treatment approaches for illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Yet as new data emerge out of such research, so do some concerns about the efficacy and safety of the drugs when used to treat COVID-19.

There have been early indications that these drugs may be effective in treating or preventing COVID-19, but the medications have not endured the due diligence of extensive clinical trials and there have been growing concerns about the impact chloroquine and the closely related hydroxychloroquine can have specifically on the heart.

Now, a chloroquine trial in Brazil has been cut short, hospitals in Sweden have been cautioned against using the drugs for COVID-19 and American cardiology groups have urged doctors to be aware of “potentially serious implications” when used for people with existing cardiovascular disease.

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Currently, there is no treatment for COVID-19 approved by the US Food and Drug Administration but the agency has issued an emergency use authorization for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat patients.

In Nigeria, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is presently conducting clinical trials on the use of chloroquine to treat COVID-19.

Besides, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued safe Ramadan practices in a document in the context of COVID-19.

The WHO said the document highlights public health advice for social and religious practices and gatherings during Ramadan that can be applied across different national contexts and that cancelling social and religious gatherings should be seriously considered.

WHO, therefore, recommends that any decision to restrict, modify, postpone, cancel, or proceed with holding a mass gathering should be based on a standardized risk assessment exercise. It said if cancelling social and religious gatherings, where possible, virtual alternatives using platforms such as television, radio, digital, and social media can be used instead and if Ramadan gatherings are allowed to proceed, measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission should be implemented.

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And as Nigeria today joins the rest of the world to mark the beginning of the World Immunisation Week (WIW), April 24-30, the WHO warned against shutting down immunisation services to prevent a resurgence of diseases that can be prevented with safe and effective vaccines.

The WHO, in a statement yesterday, said: “when immunisation services are disrupted, even for brief periods during emergencies, the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, such as measles and polio, increases.”

It said last year’s deadly measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which took more than 6000 lives in a country already facing its largest Ebola outbreak, highlighted the importance of maintaining essential health services, such as immunisation in times of emergency and that further disease outbreaks would also overwhelm health systems already battling the impacts of COVID-19.

WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “Disease outbreaks must not remain a threat when we have safe and effective vaccines to protect us.

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“While the world strives to develop a new vaccine for COVID-19 at record speed, we must not risk losing the fight to protect everyone, everywhere against vaccine-preventable diseases. These diseases will come roaring back if we do not vaccinate.”

Also, the United States government says it has spent about $21.4 million in assistance to Nigeria over the COVID-19 pandemic.

It said it gave assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Department of State.

The U.S. Embassy in Abuja, which disclosed this yesterday, said about four-fifths of the expenditure (about $18 million) were on humanitarian assistance.

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According to the embassy, the benefiting sectors include those for risk communication, water and sanitation activities, infection prevention, and coordination, and humanitarian assistance for refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and their host communities.

“The U.S. government is leading the world’s humanitarian and health response to the COVID-19 pandemic even while we battle the virus at home,” U.S. Ambassador, Mary Beth Leonard, said in a statement yesterday.

“Our assistance is rolling out gradually as we reconfigure priorities in response to the evolving situation,” the envoy added.

This funding, she explained, would support critical activities to control the spread of the disease, such as rapid public-health information campaigns, water and sanitation, and preventing and controlling infections in health-care facilities.

She cited two early examples of USAID assistance to Nigeria as support for the country’s centre for disease control by sending a million SMS messages a day to Nigerians and going door-to-door in the Northeast to prevent outbreaks in the country’s most vulnerable region.

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