*UK variant not in Nigeria, but… -NCDC
*To introduce Rapid Test Kits in 2021
*FCT running out of bed spaces
By Omeiza Ajayi
The Federal Government has rolled out new containment measures against the importation of COVID-19 particularly from the United Kingdom and South Africa, saying returnees from both countries are required to present two documents before boarding.
National Coordinator of the Presidential Taskforce PTF on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, disclosed this during Thursday’s briefing of the Taskforce.
He said; “In particular, international travellers must register with the Nigeria international travel portal.
“We are concerned a out the emergence of the new variant of COVID-19 in the UK and an additional mutant in South Africa. Our protocol to ensure the safety of our citizens and prevent the importation of cases into the country is one of the most strict.
“Specifically, for the UK and South Africa, the PTF has met and we have decided that additional measures would be required to ensure the safety of our citizens. So, effective from Monday, December 28, all passengers coming into the country from the UK and South Africa on direct flights must use the Nigeria international travel portal to register, fill in the health questionnaire; they must upload a negative COVID-19 PCR result with a validity of not more than five days and they must pay for the COVID-19 PCR test at Day 7 of their arrival in-country.
“When you are leaving UK or South Africa, you need two documents that you must present to the airlines. The first document which we already have is a negative COVID-19 PCR result. The second document is a permit to travel.
“They have to present these documents to the airlines in order to board. The only way you can get a permit to travel on the travel portal is by filling your health questionnaire electronically, uploading a COVID-19 PCR result and paying for the Day 7 test. If you do not present a permit to travel, the airlines have been directed not to allow you board”.
He said a special register would be opened at the airport for all passengers arriving from both countries and that there would be an enhanced surveillance system through which these passengers can be contacted when they arrive their homes.
Aliyu added about a hundred of those who violated the protocol before have had their passports suspended for a minimum of six months, saying those with foreign passports and visas would have their visas seized.
He also said the Federal Capital Territory FCT was already running out of bed spaces due to the rise in the number of infections.
The government however explained its decision not to rush into banning international air travels from some countries but said it would scale up measures to guard against the importation of COVID-19 virus into the country.
Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce PTF on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha announced this during the briefing.
“On international travel especially from the UK, South Africa and some very high burden areas, we continue to evaluate the actions taken by various countries. We note that some of the countries that initially banned flights have now adopted the requirement already in place in Nigeria.
“We have also weighed the security, economic and social implications of a full ban especially when we consider the situation in our neighboring countries and the ECOWAS as a whole. The PTF shall increase measures pertaining to those high burden countries to scale down the possibilities of importation”, he stated.
Mustapha added that “the PTF is working with the relevant MDAs on regulatory and certification issues before we go further, on the subject of vaccines.
“In 2021, its vaccines plus NPIs. As we make progress on this NPIs +Vaccines phase, I urge the State Governments not to close down their treatment centres. Rather they should keep them running efficiently and smoothly because the cases of infections are rising and we must intensify our efforts to support the public sector laboratories with critical reagents and the PTF expects the leadership of all Federal Tertiary Health Institutions to raise their level of testing and turnaround for results.
“We have gone past the politics of COVID-19. This is the time to work hard”, he stated.
According to the SGF, six members of his household have returned home after staying for 12 days at the isolation and treatment centre having tested positive for the virus.
On the global conversation on the new strain of virus discovered in the United Kingdom UK, Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu said; “Over the last few days, we have monitored reports of the virus mutating in the UK, South Africa and some other countries but it is important to establish some facts about what we know, what we do not know and what we are willing to learn over the next few years.
“The most important fact to put out there to calm everybody’s nerves is that viruses mutate all the time.
“We haven’t found that UK strain but also, it is not something we have been looking for on the go. To find that, you have to do sequencing. And our focus has not been on sequencing. We did some sequencing in the past but we haven’t found that.
“We only found tow that were similar but not the same. However, we are doing more sequencing. Is it possible that they are circulating, yes. This is because there are a lot of travels between the UK and Nigeria”, he added.
Iheakwazu said the NCDC will collaborate with stakeholders to collect new samples for sequencing in order to determine their variant. “This is ongoing work. It cannot happen in a hurry. It is very complex. Sequencing is not a straight-forward business which is why we have only a few centres that are able to do”.
He also urged states to reopen their test centres, saying the NCDC alone cannot conduct all COVID-19 tests sent in from states.
According to him, the Centre is working on adopting the use of Rapid Diagnostic Test Kits as from next year in order to scale up testing in the country.
He said; “On testing, there is light at the end of the tunnel. By next year, we will be introducing the use of rapid test kits. We have made a significant procurement that is coming in January and through that, we are taking testing closer to the people away from the laboratories”.