The National Coordinator of Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, has disclosed that N50 billion had been released to states to enable them push for increased testing and improved surveillance.
Aliyu, who spoke on Tuesday in Abuja at the PTF media briefing, urged governors to use the resources for the purpose the federal government made them available.
He emphasised the need for continuous investment to push down the pandemic, pointing out that the curves of the pandemic had not flattened.
The National Coordinator also said that massive testing for COVID-19 began this week.
He disclosed that a list of the first 100 passengers, who failed to show up for the test at day 14 after arriving the country, would be published once it was established that they had no cogent reason for their failure to turn up for it.
He said: “This week marks the beginning of a major initiative of increased testings for COVID-19 in the country. Congratulations to Lagos and FCT for testing a good number of their population.
“In fact, FCT has tested at least two per cent of the target we had given. Three states are well on their way – Plateau, Gombe and Rivers. They have already gone beyond 50 percent mark of the target.
“But quite a number of states have not even reached even a quarter and we continue to be concerned because we can say with a fair degree of confidence that we know what is happening in Lagos and FCT, but cannot say the same of other states.
“So, we thank all states governors for opening up sample collection centres across the country. We have given resources to state governments. Every state has received at least a billion naira.
“The state governments have received the largest single bulk of the PTF intervention. As of today, a total of N50 billion has gone to them.
“So, we have enough resources at the state level to be able to push for increased testing and improved surveillance.
“We will continue to work with states government and urge them to use these resources for the purpose that the federal government has given.
“We have to invest in making sure that the pandemic comes down. There is no doubt that we have not flattened the curve yet.
“For those of us that follow the numbers very closely, despite the fact that we are not testing enough, if you follow the number on a week to week basis, you would have noticed a change in the trajectory in the last one week based on the numbers released.
“So, please if you have symptoms, get tested; there is nothing to be afraid of if you are positive. We will take steps to make sure that you are managed properly and ensure you don’t infect your loved ones. And all of us have a role to play.
“Over the last few weeks, we have taken the initiative of opening up our economy, the combination of opening work places, schools, markets and airports
“We have had major demonstrations without any pharmaceutical interventions, a toxic situation for any country already in the toss of COVID pandemic. We should continue to be responsible for our actions, protect ourselves and those we relate with or relate to.
“The PTF is monitoring closely, the situations in European countries that are now struggling to cope with the second wave of infections. Countries like England and France have already gone into lockdown as a number of cases continue to rise.
“Up to 7,000 passengers will potentially come into the country when we fully reopen our airports. The risk of reintroduction and a second wave of COVID-19 is real and this is why we cannot rest on our oars.
“Our airports, portal services are the first lines of defence when it comes to dealing with the pandemic, so we will like to remind travellers that it is absolutely essential that you have double testing.
“Testing before boarding and testing at day seven after arrival in the country remain very important.
“When we looked at our data for the first 5,000 plus passengers coming into the country, 105 were positive at day seven of testing, whereas they had negative result on arrival. This is in a situation where we have not even opened our airports.
“Nigeria continues to have one of the most strict processes when it comes to entering the country as it relates to COVID-19. We are proud of this policy because this is what has been minimising the risk of reintroduction of the infection.
“We know there have been challenges with the portal, we continue to work very closely with our IT to make sure that passengers have a pleasant experience. But there is also responsibility on the part of the passenger.
“A situation where a passenger pays for a test and knows that a test needs to be done on day seven but fails to present for testing despite reminders, is very difficult to understand.
“The reason we test on day seven is in order to pick up those small percentage of individuals that may have been incubating the illness on their way into the country and also to allow people stop isolating on day seven.
“We know there have been issues about the cost of PCR testing and why it’s being done with the private sector. The cost is being determined by negotiation between the private laboratories and the states government.
“The role of the PTF is to ensure that the costs are not excessive. We have taken it as a priority to continue to push the cost of PCR testing down. When we started off with Abuja portal, the cost was about N42,000. It’s down N39,500.
“Last week, we directed the Lagos portal to stop charging passengers outside Lagos N50,000. Kano is charging N36,000 per test, Imo is N38,000 per test. All these are based on negotiations with states but overall, our plan is to continue to push the cost down.
“We also want to continue to supervise private laboratories to ensure they fulfill their own part of the bargain. We have teams working with the private laboratories all over the country so that passengers will not need to move around in order to have a test on day seven.
“But we have to make sure that our quarantine rules are strict if we want to stop transmission, reintroduction of COVID-19 in the country.
“We are looking at our data and over the next few days we will be publishing a list of the first 100 international passengers that failed to show up for the test at day 14.
“We will recheck with these passengers to make sure that they had not had the test by day 14. If there is no reason for failing to do so, we will suspend their passports for six months. This is the only way we can enforce testing at day seven and make sure that we follow up those that are infected.
“The alternative is to stop flights from countries with high prevalence. And for us, we don’t think this is an alternative that is palatable for all of us because we need to keep our economy up.
“For this reason, we will start enforcing what we have right at the beginning of this protocol. We already have approval from Mr. President to do so.
“These measures are not punitive. We know the pandemic is not over yet. We cannot retrogress to where we were before. There is a real risk that we will enter a second wave and we do not want to find ourselves in the situation we were back in March/April.
“So, please let’s be responsible and protect our loved ones,” he said.