…Says over 9,000 contacts traced; NCDC targets 4,000 tests daily
…Don’t allow criminals take advantage of lockdown, IGP tells AIGs, CPs
By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA—THE Federal Government announced yesterday that it now has evidence of community transmission of coronavirus in the country, saying over 9,000 persons of interest have been traced.
It also stressed the need for Nigerians to continue to obey all containment protocols put in place by the federal and sub-national governments, even as the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, asked Commissioners of Police and Assistant Inspectors-General of Police not to allow criminals take advantage of lockdown in some parts of the country.
9,000 contacts traced
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who disclosed news of community infection at a briefing of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 in Abuja yesterday, said: “We have, today, followed up over 9, 000 persons of interest, most of whom have exhausted their mandatory 14 days of observation period.
“We have evidence of community transmission already, which reinforces the urgency of physical distancing, use of face masks, particularly where you know you cannot avoid the crowd and also the maintenance of hand and respiratory hygiene as well as strict adherence to measures and regulations as announced by the President on Monday.
On his part, Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, noted that Monday’s Presidential broadcast addressed several critical issues of concern to Nigeria’s survival as a nation.
He said: “After very meticulous assessment of the recommendations of the PTF, Mr. President has authorized the extension of the restriction of movement in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory for an additional fourteen days, effective Monday, April 13, 2020.
“Such a monumental decision has been taken at great pains and we continue to appeal to Nigerians to show a lot of understanding, comply with orders, observe social distancing, keep a high level of personal and respiratory hygiene, stay at home unless it is compelling to go out and generally take responsibility for playing your individual role in this war”.
NCDC targets 4, 000 tests daily
In his presentation at the briefing, Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu, said the agency’s aim was to increase its daily testing capacity to 4,000 but noted that the current challenge was not with testing but with the collection of samples.
He said: “We have improved the capacity of the collection centres, both at national and state levels. We now have a capacity to test 1,500 people per day across the network. This capacity is not being fully utilized at the moment.
‘’So, the challenge right now is not the laboratory testing capacity but how active our public health workforce is in collecting samples, in identifying specific cases, sending the samples to the laboratories for testing.
‘’We have sufficient capacity to test 1,500 right now and we are not close to exhausting that capacity. But from today, we have to push even harder. Our target, following Mr President’s speech, is to get to 2, 000 samples a day in Lagos, 1, 000 in Abuja and a thousand for the rest of the country.
‘’This is the target we have agreed and we will push on. The challenge is no longer with the laboratories, at least not now. The challenge is collecting samples from those we have identified as suspect cases.
“The goal of the lockdown from what we know about the virus is not to stop the outbreak because it is unlikely that we can stop this outbreak. But what we are trying to do is to see how we can work effectively, within the context of reopening the economy, check the spread of the virus.
‘’Our challenge from the public health point of view is to show that we can reopen slowly and maintain a public health response and we have two weeks to do this.’’
He said in four months, Nigeria has activated 12 laboratories, with plans to have at least one in each zone until each state is equipped with one.
In his presentation, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, ordered the various heads of police formations where lockdown is being enforced to beef up security in their jurisdictions.
He specifically directed the Assistant Inspector-Generals of Police (AIG) and Commissioners of Police (CPs) in the affected areas to prevent criminals from taking advantage of the lockdown to attack residents and dispossess them of their properties.
He said: “We want to again sound a note of warning to criminals that are taking opportunity of the lockdown to go from place to place, especially in Lagos mainland and any part of this country, to desist from doing that.
“We have instructed all the Commissioners of Police, the AIGs in charge of zonal commands to deploy all the resources available to them to make sure criminals are not allowed to take opportunity of the lockdown to commit their crimes.”
Adamu noted that the police authorities were aware of the activities of criminals in some communities in some parts of Lagos and Ogun states.
He stated that the force responded swiftly and deployed an intervention force, led by a Deputy Inspector-General of Police.
According to him, personnel were deployed to vulnerable points, such as residential areas, markets, shopping malls, banks, and other critical national infrastructure to ensure that they are not vandalised or attacked.
He added: “Due to the series of complaints received from Lagos and Ogun axis on the activities of some hoodlums who are common criminals that came out attacking innocent citizens and depriving them of their properties, we have deployed men and equipment to the areas.
“We also ensured that policemen deployed adhere strictly to the force code of conduct and respect for the rights of Nigerian citizens.’’
The IGP said the police would provide escort for movement of medical personnel and relief materials, while police water cannons had been provided for fumigation purposes, especially the FCT.
Community transmission will be catastrophic if it goes full blown. – NMA
President of Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Dr Francis Faduyile, while reacting to the development, warned that Nigeria needed to be more scientific in its approach to deal with the community spread of COVID-19 in order to avoid it becoming full blown.
“We are hoping the government will change tactics geared towards stopping the rapid community spread. It is going to be catastrophic, if not checked. Let us seriously pray and let us do everything possible to guard against Nigerians getting to that position by ensuring that we do all the preventive measures to guard against community spread.
“The health sector in Nigeria has over the last 20 years, not been properly funded and in not being properly funded, has made some of the intervention that should be in place not actually in place. The laboratories that we would need to take the test for COVID-19 are not ordinary laboratories that you can set up in one or two days,” he avowed.
If we restrict ourselves to our houses chances of community transmission will be minimal – Consultant Virologist
On his part, the Consultant Virologist and Director Central Research Medical Laboratory, College of Medicine University of Lagos/Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Prof Sunday Omilabu, said community transmission was possible as Nigeria has many travellers from Europe, America, China and other affected countries in the country.
“These Nigerians are here and so many of them are carrying the virus. There is every possibility that we are having community transmission even before now. And that is why it is more important that we isolate ourselves. We maintain social distancing to prevent possible acquisition of the virus.
‘’ Those individuals who have no signs and symptoms or those who are showing signs already are in our community so there is possibility of us having community transmission right now.”
Omilabu urged Nigerians to adhere to the restriction of movement by the federal government, saying “the lockdown is just about restricting us from contracting COVID-19 among ourselves. If we restrict ourselves to our houses, the chances of contracting COVID-19 will be minimal.
‘’That is the first thing government could do to control or checkmate the spread of community transmission of the virus.
“The next thing is to apply all hygienic life style. Ideally to cultivate the culture of hand washing using soap and water. Wash our hands before we eat anything, before we touch our faces. It will help remove all infectious agents, it has been proven that hand washing reduces incidence of infectious pathogen, it is a worthwhile. During the Ebola we applied it and it helped. It prevents transmission of dangerous pathogens.”