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PDP, Labour protest as Chinese doctors arrive

By Wole Oyebade, Gloria Nwafor (Lagos), Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze and Msugh Ityokura (Abuja)
09 April 2020   |   4:35 am
A 15-MAN medical team from China yesterday arrived in Nigeria aboard an Air Peace chartered flight earlier designated for that purpose by the Federal Government...

FG warns against unauthorised treatment of COVID-19 patients
• Minister, aviation workers flay arrest of pilots by Wike

A 15-MAN medical team from China yesterday arrived in Nigeria aboard an Air Peace chartered flight earlier designated for that purpose by the Federal Government.

The team that came with medical supplies was received by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, to complement the efforts of the government to contain the coronavirus in Nigeria.

Yesterday’s delivery is the second batch of medical supplies from China. Nigerian flag carrier, Air Peace airlines, delivered the supplies after a historical flight to Chinese capital, Beijing. The flight was operated by the airline’s Boeing B777-200 ER, which arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, at 4:25 p.m. after 15 hours flight.

The Federal Government on April 5 delivered the first batch of medical supplies from Istanbul, Turkey, airlifted by the Air Peace.

Chinese medics stand on the tarmac at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport in Abuja, on April 8, 2020 as they arrived in Nigeria to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, despite angry criticism from health workers in the west African nation. – The 15-strong team were greeted by senior officials on the tarmac at Abuja airport after flying in on a month-long deployment with a planeload of medical supplies. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Among the materials brought in by the flight are 16-tonnes of test kits, ventilators, disinfectant machines, disposable medical masks, medicines, rubber gloves, protective gowns, goggles, face shields and infra-red thermometers.

The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, described the flight as historical and commended the government for its commitment to protecting Nigerian citizens from the dreaded pandemic. Onyema also thanked the government for choosing an indigenous carrier to airlift the medical supplies from Turkey and China.

“This is a huge encouragement to local airline operators and the promotion of indigenous businesses, which create jobs for the teeming Nigerian youths.

“Another history was made yesterday, April 8, 2020, as Air Peace Boeing 777-200ER (P4 5-NBVE) landed in Beijing, China, 14:18 p.m., for the airlift of the federal government of Nigeria’s medical supplies for the fight against COVID-19.

“This is the first time a Nigerian airline would be doing a direct non-stop 14 hours flight to China. The aircraft operated another non-stop 15 hours fight to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. All six-man crew are Nigerians. May God Almighty be praised for everything. We are all one under one God. Congratulations Nigeria,” Onyema said.

In a reaction to the coming of the Chinese medical experts, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) charged Nigerians to hold President Muhammadu Buhari responsible should there be any upsurge in the rate of COVID-19 infection and death in the country following the importation of doctors from China, the epicenter of the scourge, by the Federal Government.

The PDP said it was alarmed that President Buhari ignored the protests by Nigerians and professional bodies including the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and allowed the importation of the Chinese doctors despite warnings that bringing in doctors from the hotbed of the plague would expose citizens to further risks.

The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, Wednesday evening, noted that the Federal Government was importing the Chinese doctors “even as Nigerians across the board have continued to question the status, identity and interest of the Chinese doctors as well as the safety of kits and equipment from China, particularly following scary reports of escalation of the scourge in certain countries reportedly after the arrival of Chinese medical personnel in those countries.”

“Moreover, our doctors and nurses have been on top of the situation with records of recoveries and fewer casualties, thus raising questions about the real intentions of bringing in doctors from China,” The PDP said.

The opposition party said that “the situation is even more distressing as the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 had been making frantic effort to exonerate itself from the decision to bring in the Chinese doctors into our country.”

The United Labour Congress (ULC) urged those behind the move to avoid scuttling the nation’s overall COVID-19 national response strategy.

They argued that the coming of the Chinese might be a Greek gift to the country and as such Nigerians must be more careful.ULC expressed worry that there is a growing penchant for the nation’s leadership to pander to the whims and caprices of persons in white skin against hard-nosed advice and suggestions from Nigerians.

The union countered the reaction of the Secretary to the General to the Federation, Boss Mustapha, on the complaints and concerns raised by many Nigerians on the attempt to bring in the Chinese without proper consultation.

President of ULC, Joe Ajaero, who said that allowing the Chinese to distract us at this time was counter-productive, said the government should reconsider its stance, for now, pending when it had fully consulted all the relevant stakeholders in the battle against the disease.

According to him, “Anything Chinese, as far as the pandemic is concerned, raises some hairs among Nigerians and that is understandable given a lot of stories and fears out there. It is better, therefore, to take another look at this offer for assistance to assuage these feelings.

“We are also worried that a company which has had a pervasive influence on the government of this nation is in charge of various critical infrastructural projects in this country is the one making this offer at this time.

“Could it be that this may be our government’s way of granting favour to the company to take charge of their Chinese personnel during this pandemic? Was there a quid pro quo that may compromise our nation’s ethos, interests and medical processes?” Ajaero queried.

Meanwhile, the government has warned that unauthorized management of the coronavirus disease and compromise of medical ethics could aggravate the public health emergency at the community level and place national security in jeopardy.

The government also urged health facilities, both public and private, not to reject patients suspected of coronavirus without giving them advisory on what to do. Such patients should follow the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines and refer suspect cases to COVID-19 test sites.

Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunmibe Mamora, who handed down the warning yesterday at a press conference by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 reminded all health facilities that coronavirus is an extremely dangerous pathogen which spreads very easily. He said it was not advisable to accept persons suspected of such infection for treatment if the facility is not so accredited but to offer them a referral to test centers or accredited treatment centers.

According to Mamora, health workers and other patients and visitors will otherwise be put at great risk if unaccredited health facilities start handling Covid-19 patients.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, said the visit to Lagos by the team was informed by the fact that is the epicenter of the virus, PTF considered it expedient to have first-hand information on the level of preparedness for the war against COVID-19, case management, contact tracing and the impact of lockdown and to compare notes on a number of policy issues.

He said the task force was very satisfied with the level of preparedness and strategy of control, adding that the Federal Government would be receiving equipment and other technical support through the United Nations as well as other donors.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika faulted the arrest and arraignment of Caverton Helicopter pilots by the Rivers State governor, NyemsonWike.

“Civil aviation is on the exclusive list, item number three. So no other person but the Federal Government has authority to legislate upon it. So also the armed forces are on the exclusive list, there is no other person that has the legal rights to legislate upon them,” he said.

According to him, the police that followed the governor to arrest the pilots exhibited dangerous ignorance from the nation’s perspective in civil aviation. He said the flights in question were operated with the approval of the Federal Government in the national interest.

“All of these flights are for the purposes of improving the national revenue of which Rivers State is the greatest beneficiary. So those flights by Caverton, Aero Contractor, Arik and Bristo were for national interest and improved national revenue.”

The minister further said: “At a time when oil has gone below $30 per barrel and the cost of production is $30, in the wisdom of President Muhammadu Buhari, this should be allowed so that the nation will not be crippled and national revenue will not be lost.”

Aviation workers and concerned experts alike also kicked over the arrest and detention of the two pilots of Caverton Helicopters on the orders of Wike.

Wike, The Guardian learnt, ordered the arrest of the two pilots – Samuel Urgoji and Samuel Buhari – in Port Harcourt over alleged violation of the stay-at-home directive. The duo have been remanded in prison custody for flying expatriates into the state.

Urgoji and Buhari were arraigned in a chief magistrates’ court on four-count charge, which bordered on disobeying the executive order issued by the governor aimed at checking the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

The umbrella body for all pilots and aircraft engineers, National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), condemned the arrest, saying the aviators fell under the category of essential workers since their flight was authorised.

The President of NAAPE, Galadima Abednego, said they deemed the actions of Rivers State government as an unwarranted attack on their members.

Abednego said they were left with no other option than to demand the immediate release of the pilots and an apology from the governor or NAAPE would direct all pilots, both local and international, to boycott flying into Rivers State indefinitely

Caverton Helicopters had appealed to Wike to release the pilots, adding that they got approval to operate the flight for which the pilots were apprehended. The Caverton management said they received a letter from their client stating that they had been given the approval to fly and continue operations.