•As Nigeria confirms 3rd case of Coronavirus
•At least 730 people from high-risk countries enter Nigeria daily
•FG suspends National Sports Festival in Edo
•Govt bans officials from foreign travels
By Henry Umoru, Chioma Obinna, livinus Nwabughiogu, Joseph Erunke, Dirisu Yakubu & Gabriel Olawale
ABUJA—The Senate, House of Representatives and the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, yesterday, asked the Federal Government to shut all borders and urgently consider banning non-Nigerian travellers from countries with high risk of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
The NMA wants a total shutdown of the nation’s borders, saying, at least, 730 people from high-risk countries of Coronavirus enter the country on a daily basis.
This came on a day President Muhammadu Buhari approved the suspension of National Sports Festival billed for next week in Edo State, following confirmation of a third case of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
The House of Representatives had earlier, yesterday, asked the Federal Government to toe the line of several other countries that have shut down their borders, schools, markets and banned public gatherings.
The Senate made the request after adopting a point of order raised at yesterday’s plenary by Ibrahim Oloriegbe, its health committee chairman.
Before the third case was announced yesterday, the Federal Government had said it was not considering a travel ban on countries with active spread of the virus.
But Oloriegbe said, in addition to the ban and other prevention and control practices, Nigeria should as well restrict travels to worst-hit countries to curb the spread of the virus.
He said: “If it is possible, people should not travel to countries with high risk of the cases, especially in Europe, where many countries are affected, unless such trips are very important.
“Government should also consider disallowing non-Nigerians from countries of high risk from entering the country. Government should also increase capacity about checking at airports.”
He said Nigeria currently had only five centres where testing could be done, adding that “government has to step up the testing capacity, and provide support for state governments.”
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, who agreed with his submission, said emphasis should be placed on isolation and testing centres.
“We are very lucky and fortunate, but we shouldn’t push our luck too far. We should be very observant of all those regulations the technical experts give us.
“There is need for federal government to do a little more, especially in the area of testing centres. The entire north and south-east have no testing centres and it shouldn’t be so.
“Also, for the isolation centres the state governments are building, the ministry of health should come out with a standard which will be replicated in all the states.
“So we need to, through our committees, ensure we work with the ministry of health to work with the states to ensure the isolation centres are standardised,’’ he said.
On his part, the President, Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Dr. Francis Faduyile, also called on the Federal Government to close the nation’s borders against countries with high case of Coronavirus.
Speaking in Lagos, Faduyile said the time had come for the country to close its borders, noting that if Coronavirus got loose in the country, Nigeria would suffer for it.
“The time has come for us as a country to take decisive action. I can tell you, if Coronavirus gets loose in this country, the whole of Nigeria will suffer for it.
“The view of Nigeria Medical Association is that it’s high time the Nigeria government took that decision of closing the border against those countries with high level of coronavirus infection.”
Corroborating his views, the Lagos State Director of Epidemiology, Biosecurity and Global Health, Dr. Ismail Abdul-Salam, raised alarm over the influx of people from high-risk countries which, he noted, could pose a greater risk to the safety and containment of likely coronavirus outbreak.
Speaking during a training on infection prevention and control in epidemics for Healthcare Providers Association of Nigeria organized by PharmAccess Foundation, Abdul-Salam said that on a daily basis, no less than 38,000 people come into the country through the ports, while 730 of this number are from Coronavirus high-risk countries.
Reps advice to FG
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers did not only ask the Federal Government to postpone the National Sports Festival but also insisted that government followed the path of other countries to close borders, ban large public gatherings and shut schools and other public places.
The House took the decision on the heels of a motion under matters of urgent national importance moved by Onofiok Luke from Akwa Ibom State at yesterday’s plenary.
Luke said it might be insensitive to host such event at a time countries and nations were shutting down markets and airports, and discouraging large gatherings as a measure of fighting the ravaging coronavirus.
Moving the motion, Luke, who noted the contributions of sports to national development also appreciated Edo State for hosting the event. He said Edo State Government has spent substantial public funds on publicity, rehabilitation and upgrading of sporting facilities and is already set to welcome other athletes.
He said: “The House appreciates the seriousness of the current global epidemic, coronavirus, which the World Health Organization has branded a global epidemic that has so far affected almost 200,000 persons worldwide and killed over 7,000 in over 60 nations.
“In the United States, only the State of West Virginia is yet to report a case of coronavirus. Note the very far-reaching efforts of governments all over the world, including nations such as Ghana and South Africa, where gatherings of more than 50 persons have been prohibited, social distancing of at least three feet apart is encouraged, widespread use of sanitizers recommended, and citizens encouraged to stay indoors.
“In some other nations, life is on total lock-down (save for strategic and essential movements). In fact, workers are encouraged to work from home, while students are encouraged to study online.
“Recognizes that virtually all sporting activities in the world such as the ATP (Tennis), Judo (International Judo Federation), London Marathon, NBA, EFL, Formula 1, The US Masters, Kentucky Derby, Boxing, FA Women’s Championships, FA Women’s Super League, UEFA, LaLiga, World Cup Qualifiers, Darts (The Professional Darts Corporation), and Cricket have been cancelled or postponed due to precautions about the spread of the coronavirus, including indoor games, with schools from pre-kindergarten through universities and research centers shut down.”
In his ruling, the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, underscored the importance of the postponement, mandating the House Committee on Legislative Compliance to ensure that the resolution got to the Ministers of Sports and Health respectively by tomorrow (today).
Lagos Govt, health ministry confirm third case
Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Health and Lagos State Government, yesterday, confirmed the third case of COVID-19 in Nigeria, making the number of confirmed cases three. Consequently, the Federal Government has commenced intensive contact tracing of the patient.
Confirming this in a press statement yesterday, Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said the new case is independent of the index case.
According to him, the new case was discovered in a 30-year-old Nigerian female who returned from the UK on March 13, 2020.
The patient, he said, was discovered, following the stringent surveillance efforts of the Federal Ministry of Health within the borders.
Ehanire said the 30-year-old Nigerian national had upon return from a short visit to the United Kingdom on March 13, went into a 14-day self-isolation, but subsequently developed symptoms of fever and cough on March 16, after which she voluntarily called the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, toll-free call line to report her condition.
He further explained that officials from the Lagos State Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) were immediately dispatched to her home to collect samples, which upon testing came out positive for the coronavirus.
“The lady is currently at the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) in Yaba, where she has remained clinically stable and is responding to treatment,” the minister said.
He disclosed that intensive contact tracing to help identify all persons who the patient had been in contact with since her return had begun.
“We expect the number to be small, because of her sensible decision to go into self-isolation from the time of her arrival. We commend her for following the recommended guidelines to the letter,” he said.
Dr Ehanire pledged that the Ministry would continue to assess the situation and adjust responses accordingly, urging Nigerians to continue to maintain hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette to prevent the infection.
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He added: “We strongly advise citizens to stay more at home. All Nigerians are required to continue taking necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families. People should follow these measures, including washing hands regularly with soap and water or use alcohol-based sanitizers, maintain at least two metres distance between yourself and anyone with persistent cough or sneezing.
“Maintain a distance in gatherings, make sure you and people around you follow good respiratory hygiene, which means covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or handkerchief when coughing or sneezing.
“If none is available, you can cough into your elbow or the sleeve of your dress. Dispose of the used tissue properly, into a dustbin. Call the NCDC toll free number 0800 9700 0010, which is available 24 hours.”
Also, addressing journalists in Lagos, Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, said the third case who tested positive 10 days after she returned from United Kingdom was currently receiving treatment at the Isolation centre, Mainland Hospital, Yaba.
Index case still contagious — LASG
Giving an update on the index case, Abayomi said the patient was still contagious and still at the isolation facility in Lagos.
“He is still in our facility because our test confirms that he is still excreting very small amounts of the virus. Our last test yesterday shows that he is still potentially contagious, so we are very conscious; until our test confirms that he is negative and pose no danger to the community we will not release him.
“We are following the protocol which is that there must be two negative tests 48 hours apart. So, as soon as we get the first negative test, we will wait for another 48 hours before we run another test, if it’s negative, then we will discharge him.”
FG postpones National Sports Festival
Also yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the postponement of the National Sports Festival, tagged Edo 2020.
This is even as the Federal Government is contemplating taking a decision on religious and social gatherings in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
Briefing State House correspondents after a meeting President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Minister of Sports, Mr Sunday Dare, announced postponement of the sports festival.
The Minister, flanked by the Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, said the postponement was due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
He explained that the decision was arrived at after close consultations with the Ministry of Health.
Dare said: “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development, because of Edo 2020 National Sports Festival, has been in close touch and consultation with the Ministry of Health, particularly with both the minister of health and the minister of state, health.
“We have also been in consultation with the governor and deputy governor of Edo State, the LOC, and the MOC but we have had the Ministry of Health take the lead. Based on daily review on development, we got assurances that we could go ahead.
“But because we are dealing with a dynamic situation, this morning (yesterday), we had a meeting at the Ministry of Health in the office of the Minister of Health with the Minister of State for Health present, myself, the permanent secretary and the Director-General of NCDC.
“Shortly after the meeting which lasted about 45 minutes, we proceeded to the Presidency to brief Mr President. After the briefing, Mr President took the initiative and gave the directive that the National Sports Festival, christened Edo 2020, be postponed as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19.
“A new date will be communicated, based on developments around COVID-19. Let me also add that for the benefit of the sporting community, the Ministry of Youth and Sports recognizes the fact that a lot of resources, a lot of efforts on the part of our athletes have gone into preparing for Edo 2020, the 36 states and FCT.
“But we think that staying healthy to be able to compete in not just Edo 2020 but other sports and tournaments is very important. So the interest of the health of our sports men and women is paramount at this time.
“But beyond that, we are looking at 11,500 people in Edo State for two weeks and we think that is a huge number; we think we should go by just what the Minister of State for Health has said we have done extensive review and we just want to say, we have the interest and the welfare of our sports men and women at heart and we know that not too far from now, we will be able to re-enact the festival in Edo.”
Also briefing, the Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, said although the World Health Organization, WHO, had given its guidelines, especially the precautionary measure, each country still has the liberty to take decisions in its best interest.
He said: “You have listened to the Minister of Sports, the only thing to add is that yesterday (Monday), I had the privilege to brief the press on the update on COVID-19 in Nigeria, and I did say at that briefing that because of the dynamic nature of what we are dealing with, in spite of listening to advice or guidelines from the World Health Organisation, WHO, each country still has the liberty to take decision in its best interest.
“Of course, taking on board the country’s experience and reality on ground, I did say that as at that time, if the situation happening, thereafter, dictates that certain actions be taken, we would not hesitate to take such.
“So it was against that background that we also had a meeting this morning (Tuesday) with the Minister of Youth and Sports and we felt that in the overall interest of Nigerians and national health security, it is better to err on the side of caution.
“Therefore, we conveyed to Mr President our thought and Mr President kindly agreed that it was best for us to have this postponement. One of the things that we need to give attention to in the postponement is the possibility of people carrying the virus, even without knowing — what we called asymptomatic — that is they carry it but they don’t even know because they are not manifesting symptoms.
“What we need so far is that up to 80 to 81 per cent of people would either be A-Symptomatic that is not showing any symptoms or where they show symptoms, the symptoms may just be mild and moderate and this is a major source of what we call community transmission.
“So the principle of social distancing has to be respected. That is preventive or advising against congregation of large number of people starting from the national sports festival which stands postponed.
“That also extends to religious gatherings or any other gathering that would have a large number of people. It is not advisable at this point in time.”
Asked whether the ministry was considering banning all forms of religious gatherings and schools in the country since many countries have done that, the minister said the immediate consideration was the sports festival.
He said: “What I can say for now is that the immediate issue before us is the national sports festival and our meeting with Mr President essentially was to convey our thoughts in that regards and Mr President did the right thing by approving the need for the postponement. But social distancing is desirable at this point in time.”
Also asked when the Federal Government would ban flights from high risk countries, he said: “Well, there will be subsequent briefings from the ministry because each situation is reviewed as it comes to us.”
Step up action, PDP tells FG
Reacting to confirmation of the third case discovered in Nigeria yesterday, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, tasked the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to step up action and move beyond rudimentary interventions and adopt more stringent measures to safeguard the nation from the hazards of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement issued by spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP expressed worry that measures so far taken “fall short of the required pre-emptive measures, thereby leaving gaps that expose our nation to avoidable risks.”
The statement read: “The PDP observed that Nigeria is a strategic international hub. As such, the federal government should adopt stringent pre-emptive measures by radically stepping up our international ports and border screening as well as quickly improving our internal surveillance and hygiene monitoring system.
“Our party holds that the Federal Government should also go beyond its proposed secondary screening of travelers from certain countries and extend the measure to all international flights coming into the country, given the prevalence of connecting flights and land border crossing by international air travelers.
“Also, the Federal Government should ensure that domestic airlines undertake proper screening of passengers as well as fumigation of their aircraft to guarantee the safety of air travelers within Nigeria.
“The PDP urges the federal government to take immediate steps to create more screening centers and lead in providing more screening equipment in all our airports, seaports, land borders as well as crowded places such as schools, market places, commercial vehicle terminals, public work places, religious gatherings, among others.
“The party also counsels the authorities to mobilize a more concerted effort against the pandemic, remain open, resist the temptation of false performance claims and keep Nigerians adequately informed on the true position of issues at all times.”
It called on Nigerians to remain vigilant, ensure their personal hygiene and follow directives issued by the authorities in the collective effort to safeguard the nation from the scourge.