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COVID-19 discrimination: FG draws red line with China

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Wuhan has only two critically ill coronavirus patients•Says won’t tolerate racism, discrimination against Nigerians
•Over 40 health workers test positive for Coronavirus — Ehanire
•10, 000 Nigerians tested so far — NCDC
•17 WHO, NCDC officials sent to monitor Kano situation

By Omeiza Ajayi

The Federal Government said yesterday it has drawn the red line with China over allegations of continued racial discrimination against blacks and Africans, particularly Nigerians, resident in Guangzhou Province and other parts of the country.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, disclosed this during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja

There have been reports that Nigerians and other blacks are being forced to undergo a second round of COVID-19 tests, while they are also barred from accessing certain services in China.

This is in addition to videos showing Nigerians and other blacks being physically assaulted by Chinese mobs.

The warning came as the Federal Government advised health workers on the front line of the onslaught against the virus to be cautious in handling the pandemic, lamenting that over 40 health workers in the country had so far contracted the virus in the line of duty.

Government also explained its inability to make testing compulsory for all Nigerians, saying while more resourced countries have not been able to do that, Nigeria has not exhausted its current daily testing capacity of 1, 500 people as only an average of 600 people are currently tested daily.

The disclosures came on a day a mobile court in the Federal Capital Territory FCT, convicted an Islamic cleric, Malam Isa Ismail, and two others for willful violation of the lockdown order.

Red line with China

On the red line with China, Onyeama noted that the Federal Government has engaged Chinese authorities both at the Consulate and federal levels in China to ensure that Nigerians are treated with utmost respect and dignity.

He said: “On medical assistance being provided by China, especially in the context of cases of discrimination or racism that have been taking place in the country, we have been engaging with the Chinese government at various levels.

“At the level of our Consulate in Guangzhou which is where these cases of racism have been taking place, and also at the federal level in Beijing with our Ambassador and our Embassy there.

“Now, we have made it clear to the Chinese government in no uncertain terms, unequivocally, that under no circumstance would we accept racial discrimination against Nigerians or, indeed, Africans or blacks in China; that, that is a red line for us.

“They have in turn told us that there is no case of that ongoing but clearly we are seeing videos; I have received reports and we have told them it is unacceptable and we are also engaging with other African countries to work together and decide on the punitive steps and measures that we would take because of this situation.

Deeply wounded

“In addition, I have directed our Consulate in Guangzhou to systematically detail every single case of discrimination and every single case of loss or damage suffered by any Nigerian and we will pursue each of the cases very robustly with the Chinese government, if it requires compensation and damages etc.

“So, for us, it is a red line and we are going to fight it to the very end. We are extremely disappointed because we have excellent relations with the government and people of China that such a thing can happen at this stage.

“When there were calls for travels to be banned to China, when they had the outbreak in Wuhan, we went along with the advice of the World Health Organization, WHO, not to place a ban on China and we showed real solidarity because we have also had our own experience of epidemics with Ebola and so on.

“But really, we are deeply wounded by what has happened to Nigerians and other Africans in China. Of course, the government has given us explanations but really, it is something we never expected and we will pursue it to its final conclusion and we will not make any compromises in doing so.

“There have been some comments in the public domain as if we are held somehow hostage by the fact that we have received a lot of economic cooperation from China in the past. But I can assure you that where this is concerned, we are going to pursue it to the very end, irrespective of whatever economic cooperation we have with China because in the world of today, we absolutely will not and cannot tolerate any form of racism or discrimination against blacks, against Africans.

“As the largest black and African country in the world, it behoves us to be in the front line of defending the dignity of blacks and Africans everywhere in the world.”

Infected health workers

In his presentation, Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire urged health workers to abide by all necessary precautionary measures in order to guarantee their own safety in the line of duty.

“I applaud our health workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic; government will continue to provide you with the necessary Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, and I urge you to take all necessary precautions for your own safety.

“Please, do not treat any patient without using adequate PPE; front line health workers must undertake refresher training on IPC.

“This warning has become necessary due to the number of health workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 — they are over 40 now — or others who have had to be quarantined in the last two weeks due to exposure and are, therefore, not able to contribute to the healthcare sector efforts.

“I urge you all to remain vigilant in the line of duty and maintain a high index of suspicion for COVID-19,” he stated.

10,000 tested so far

On his part, Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu, said Nigeria is not in competition with any other country in terms of testing, adding that no country had made COVID-19 tests compulsory for its citizens.

He said: “I do not think any country, even the most resourced ones in the world, have made testing mandatory. We have a very good strategy around testing. Yes, the numbers are always being thrown at us — Ghana, South Africa, etc, — but we are not playing a numbers game.

“These are people, they are human beings. Before we test anyone, we go through a risk assessment to make sure it is appropriate to test you. Until recently, we had 5,000 tests but in the last week, we have gone up from 5,000 to 10,000.

“So, if from the beginning of the outbreak to last week we tested 5,000, then in the last week, we have tested another 5,000 and we are going to continue our testing rapidly, then we are on track. We have just got the first set of reagents for high throughput testing.

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“Therefore, I think there will be a change in the numbers, but to be honest, I am not playing a numbers game with testing. We have a strategy, we will stick to that strategy and we are going to make sure we deliberately increase the number of tests, testing the right people at the right time.”

Earlier, chairman of the PTF and Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, said the situation in Kano State is still being closely followed by the Federal Government.

He said: “The situation in Kano is still being assessed and monitored closely. Based on preliminary findings, the PTF has directed the NCDC to send an enhanced support team, mobilize resources for contact tracing and immediately ensure that necessary steps are taken in conjunction with the state government to contain the spread of the pandemic in Kano and stop the city from becoming the next epicentre.

“The PTF has continued to collaborate with governors in the various states and the outcome of the conversation with the NGF will form a critical part of the recommendations to be made to Mr. President in the coming days.”

17 WHO, NCDC officials sent to Kano to monitor Coronavirus spread

Also speaking at the briefing, National Coordinator of the Task Force, Dr. Sani Aliyu, said the NCDC had sent at least 17 persons, including seven from the World Health Organisation, WHO, to Kano State to deal with surging cases of coronavirus in the state.

Noting that the measure was necessary to reduce spread of the disease, Dr. Aliyu added: “In addition to this, the DG NCDC has asked the state emergency operating centre to reorganize the way it functions and a joint team from the state government is currently investigating the concerns with regard to the deaths.

“Additional laboratory equipment were also sent to Kano yesterday (Wednesday), but Kano laboratory, at the moment, is closed for the next few days, while fumigation and disinfection is ongoing.

“It’s extremely important that we continue to measure and stop community spread, we cannot do that without the cooperation of the public, we continue to call on the public to please restrict and stay where they are and it is important. It’s a temporary sacrifice for the long-term benefit of all of us.”

The PTF also expressed delight at the move by state governors to ensure inter-state restriction of movement to contain the spread of the virus.

Aliyu said: “PTF continues to engage very closely with the state governments. We are particularly pleased to note the decision by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum to restrict inter-states travel. This is really important when it comes to reducing the risks of inter-state spread and transmission of the virus.”

Imam convicted for lock-down violations

Meanwhile, a mobile court in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, has convicted an Islamic cleric for organizing prayers in contravention of the sit-at-home order of government.

FCT Enforcement Team chairman, Mr Ikharo Attah, said the cleric, Malam Isa Ismail, and two others were arrested at a popular Mosque in Wuse 2 District for disobeying government’s directives on large congregational prayers.

He said: “The FCT Mobile Court sitting at Eagle Square today convicted an imam of a popular mosque in Wuse 2 District for holding worship in contravention of the lock-down rules.

“Imam Isa Ismail and two other worshippers were convicted and fined N2,000 each with community service. They will be cleaning the neighbourhood for 24 hours, to serve as deterrent to others.

“Several motorists were also arrested and arraigned before the mobile court. Since the mobile courts started sitting, about 500 violators have been convicted. Many of them were fined and released after paying the fines.

“Based on the discretion of the court, the convicts were fined and released, because sending them to custodial centres would undermine government’s efforts at decongesting the centres and other detention facilities across the country. Moreso, many of the convicts were first-time offenders.”

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