Presidential Task Force inspects LUTH COVID-19 isolation centre•Warns states ‘this isn’t time for games’
•Adds ‘stigmatization of patients can lead to explosion in infections’
•Blames spread of COVID-19 on inter-state travels

By Omeiza Ajayi

ABUJA — THE Federal Gov- ernment said yesterday it does not have enough isolation centres to keep the high number of Nigerians in diaspora who have indicated willingness to return home. It also reiterated its warning to state governments not to relax their control measures, declaring this was not the time to play games.

The government equally warned against stigmatizing patients and survivors of coronavirus, expressing concerns about possible exponential increase in infection rate as many of those currently with symptoms would prefer to remain in their closets, rather than step forward for evaluation and treatment.

Inadequate Centres

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Enyeama, who stated this at the daily briefing of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 in Abuja, said there was currently a high number of Nigerians seeking a return to the country, adding that there were not enough isolation centres to keep them for the mandatory 14 days. He said: “We have received all the numbers from our various embassies around the world. We are collating those numbers, then we have now selected two airlines that will be responsible for going to fetch them.

“The numbers are high and the places where we can isolate them are not enough for those numbers. So, we will have to do it in a target fashion. Together with the National Emergency Management Agency NEMA, NEMA, and the Ministry of Health, we will have to come to an agreement to be bringing them back according to the number of beds and other things that are available.  But as I said, we have now identified the airlines and so we are almost ready to go.”

Also speaking at the briefing, chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, said while he advanced reasons for the frequent altercations between Nigerians and security operatives enforcing the lockdown, citizens have to be civil in communicating with operatives, adding that respect was reciprocal. He said: “Let me also advise that whenever you are outside the confines of your homes, make sure it is for very legitimate reasons covered by the exemption or within the hours relaxed for the purchase of basic items.

”Similarly, you should carry with you a valid means of identification. Finally, I urge everyone to please exercise patience in communicating with the law enforcement agents assigned to ensure compliance with the Presidential orders.  They are there to protect all of us! “The PTF continues to monitor developments around the country and provide guidance to the sub-national entities and all Nigerians on measures to take to strengthen their systems and to minimize the risk of infection.

“We note the number of confirmed cases for Wednesday, April 15, 2020, which represents the highest single day rise in number since the inauguration of the PTF a month ago. We also note the encouraging number of people discharged from care and management facilities. We are working in a collaboration with states all over the federation. I have been in contact with them through the Governors’ Forum and even yesterday after our video conferencing with the President, the DG, NCDC and the National Coordinator of the PTF were on with them for several minutes discussing synergy and how we can harmonize our response so that we have one national response.

No games

“I must commend the states because they are doing a good job but you heard me say this morning (yesterday) that this is not the time to relax any lockdown. A state has gone from one index case in under one week to 21. So, it is serious business, please.  ‘It is not a joking matter and this is not the time to play any games. It is only our collective resolve as a country that can help us deal with this pandemic. So, I will continue to emphasize the fact that we have one national response and scientifically proven, the only way you can drastically reduce transmission is through the lockdown.

”Once people do not come in contact with one another, we will be able to trace those that have appeared on our radar as persons of interest, follow them up, track them and if need be, test them. ‘If they are positive, take them into isolation. Remove them from cohabiting with other people who are not infected and give them the appropriate care.

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But as long as we allow business as usual, people getting together, partying, then we should be prepared to deal with the consequences of our actions.  ”So, given these two weeks, I must commend the governors that have taken bold steps in locking down their states so that the needful be done.”

Stigma

In his remarks, Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, warned against stigmatizing patients and survivors, saying it was a disincentive for those who might want to access testing and treatment. He said:   “The COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discrimination against anyone thought to have been in contact with the virus as well as people of certain backgrounds.

”This negative association means those with the disease, their caregivers, family, friends and communities, are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, and treated poorly because of a disease.  “Unfortunately, stigma can prompt social isolation of persons or groups and drives people to hide the illness, prevents them from seeking health care immediately, and discourages them from adopting healthy behaviours.   ”This could cause a situation where the virus is more likely to spread and increase the difficulty of controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. We must not stigmatise persons who have recovered from COVID-19.

3,000 tests per day

“The national testing capacity has been increased to 3,000 per day in 13 molecular laboratories nationwide activated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.

The target this week is to significantly increase the national testing capacity further;  two more laboratories are scheduled to come up in Borno and Sokoto states. “The states have been supplied sample collection kits and are encouraged to develop innovative methods to improve testing capacity, such as engaging the private sector to outsource and diversify sample collection sites and improve logistic support.”

Blames spread on inter-state travels

Sani Aliyu, national coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, said the committee was concerned about reports of people being smuggled in trucks out of Lagos.  Aliyu said inter-state travels were leading to community spread of the disease. He appealed to Nigerians to limit their movement if the disease must be curtailed.

Several states in the country had banned inter-state travels in a bid to check the spread of COVID-19.

Both Director General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu, and the National Coordinator of the Taskforce, Dr Sani Aliyu, said those infected have not committed any crime, urging Nigerians to resist the temptation to stigmatize them.

Aliyu specifically begged survivors to tell their stories of survival in order to encourage those who might be showing some symptoms of the virus but were afraid to present themselves for testing.

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