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Why Nigeria won’t close borders over coronavirus, by minister, NIS

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Nigeria Immigration Service. Photo: TWITTER/NIGIMMIGRATION

Govt begins rigorous screening of passengers
• Acquires capacity to detect the virus at point of entry
• Lagos urges self-isolation for 14 days by returnees
• The U.S. shuts border to visitors as illness spreads

Unlike the United States (U.S.), which has closed its border to visitors from China for fear of the deadly coronavirus, Nigeria has opted to implement the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of rigorous screening at the points of entry and self-isolation for two weeks for passengers who have been to the Asian country in the last 14 days.

Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, told The Guardian in an interview yesterday that the WHO did not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available and countries were cautioned against actions that promote stigma or discrimination, in line with the principles of Article 3 of the International Health Regulations (IHR).

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He said the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Saturday acquired the capacity to detect the coronavirus at the point of entry in Abuja and planned to replicate the feat in Lagos this week.

According to Ehanire, the Federal Ministry of Health has been in contact with its counterpart in China and the Nigerian Ambassador in China and is planning to meet with the Chinese Ambassador in Nigeria tomorrow.

He said: “We have no plan to ban passengers from China coming into Nigeria. The protocol is that everybody will be screened as they arrive. We take their travel history. The screening at the airport is rigorous. Anybody that is not feeling well will be interviewed. Those who have been in the area will be advised to self-isolate for the safety of their families and communities. In addition to automated thermal screening at points of entry, we ask them to give us their addresses and phone numbers so that we can follow up and be in touch with them within the next 14 days. We urge them to call us if they feel unwell.”

On the newly acquired capacity to detect the virus, Ehanire said: “We have acquired the reagent to detect the coronavirus by ourselves. Before now, we were relying on the WHO. But we have got the capacity now to get a quick test done in Abuja. We had the machine but did not have the required reagent because it is a novel virus.

The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) also said the country would not close her borders against Chinese nationals returning from the Lunar new year celebration because the Federal Government had put in place necessary measures for the detection of the coronavirus or any other disease.

The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the NIS, Sunday James, made the comment while answering questions on the possibility of border closure and other actions to prevent the virus from spreading to Nigeria even as many Chinese are expected back into Nigeria after going home to celebrate an annual festival, the Lunar New Year.

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James said that even though the disease was devastating China, “fundamental international relations does not permit any country to close her borders to any group of persons or a country without any diplomatic law to that effect.”

The NIS also explained that the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has put in place a thermal scan across the nation’s airports which would ensure that such health cases are detected and proper action is taken.

The Lagos State government advised all travelers returning from China or exposed to a traveler from China or any country where cases of the coronavirus have been reported to observe self-quarantine on arrival in Lagos.

In a public advisory issued yesterday through the Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, the state government described unsupervised self-quarantine for travelers as the first step in containing the virus in Lagos.

According to Abayomi, self-quarantine is a public health strategy used to separate and isolate individuals who may have been exposed to a communicable disease. The aim is to protect individuals who may have been exposed and the general public.

According to him, persons observing self-quarantine must stay at home during the whole duration of the self-quarantine, and must avoid workplace, minimize contact with family members, ensure no contact with visitors, refrain from attending or going to public or social functions and must not ride or fly in any mode of public transportation.”

Some travel agencies yesterday urged the airport authorities to step up surveillance of the coronavirus symptoms and quarantine all China returnees for at least two weeks before entry into the country.

President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, said it was not sufficient to keep the Chinese away, but all Nigerians returning from China should be closely examined.

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According to him, the virus takes about two weeks to manifest in carriers, “which leaves us with no option than to quarantine returnees for that period.”

Bankole noted that Nigeria has a huge load factor of businessmen and women on the China route, with at least one million passengers visiting Guangzhou from Nigeria yearly.

A travel consultant, Rasheed Ojuolape, said travels between Nigeria and China had continued unabated in the last few days despite the Federal Government warning that the citizens should avoid the troubled region.

The WHO recently declared a global health emergency on coronavirus, warning all countries with weak health systems like Nigeria to be wary of the spread.

Since air travel is one of the quickest ways that a virus can spread across continents, several carriers have canceled some or all of their flights to China.

The United States yesterday began enforcement of mandatory 14-day quarantine of citizens returning to the country who have visited Hubei province – where Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, is located – within two weeks of coming back to the country. Those who have travelled elsewhere in Mainland China will be subject to a 14-day self-imposed quarantine.

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