The ramping up of testing for COVID-19 is raking up an alarming figure of people returning positive for the virus and projecting into the future, analysts are asking the federal government to prepare for another lockdown to avert disaster.
Yesterday, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reported 195 new cases, up from the 64 of the previous day, bringing the tally to 1,532 with 255 persons discharged and 44 dead across 33 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). So far, only three states have been spared by the deadly virus.
According to NCDC, 10,918 persons have been tested, meaning roughly 14 per cent of those were positive. Yet it has announced that it intends to ramp up its testing to two million in three months. This is where the analysts are concerned, wondering if the infected are this high during the lockdown, what would happen when the restriction is eased.
Yielding to public pressure, President Muhammadu Buhari had on Monday night signed a proclamation easing the lockdown he had imposed on the FCT, Lagos, and Ogun states on March 30 through the COVID-19 Regulations 1, which he renewed with the second regulation on April 14.
The president had, in a nationwide broadcast, eased the restriction replacing it with a country-wide curfew from 8pm to 6am effective from Monday, May 4. He banned inter-state travels as well as social and religious gathering and compelled the use of face mask in public places.
He, however, locked down Kano State, which had become the new epicentre of the rampaging virus.
Although he noted the rising cases of the pandemic despite the four-week lockdown, the president appeared helpless in the face of restiveness of the citizens who were complaining of hunger due to lack of livelihood. The business owners were also complaining and warning of the potential danger to the fragile economy if the lockdown persisted.
But extrapolating from the figures turned in yesterday, analysts foresee disaster ahead. NCDC in its update said the pandemic had soared by 195 from 15 states, including Lagos 80, Kano 38, Bauchi 15, Ogun 15, Borno 11, Gombe 10, Sokoto nine, Jigawa five, Edo five, Zamfara two, FCT one, Enugu one, Rivers one, Delta one, and Nasarawa one.
According to analysts, who spoke to THISDAY, with an infection rate of 14 per cent and a death rate of three per cent, the figure could become huge when testing is ramped up to two million as projected by NCDC.
“What this means is that at the present rate of 14 per cent, we would be looking at about 280,000 infected persons and 8,400 deaths when the testing increases to two million in three months,” said one of the analysts.
Saying this is a disaster waiting to happen, he advised the federal government to prepare for another lockdown to avert the impending public health crisis.
The analysts, however, recognised that the president had eased the lockdown in the first instance because the government had failed to properly channel its palliatives to the poorest of the poor, whose then became very restive.
Going forward, they advised the federal government to use the period of the easement to do a restructure its palliative distribution strategy, saying it had to take into cognizance that it could not fund it alone.
“Government must realise that it could not foot the palliatives alone, therefore it must mobilise both the private sector and encourage communities to be their brothers’ keeper,” an analyst said, pointing to the example of Lekki Food Bank in Lagos State.
“Every community must be encouraged to set up its food bank and distribute to the needy,” he said, explaining that except the poor and the workers are food-secure no lockdown would work.
Trump Calls Buhari, Promises to Provide Ventilators
Meanwhile, the United States President, Mr. Donald Trump, has promised to send some ventilators to support Nigeria in the fight to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the country, which has afflicted 1,532 persons and killed 44 while 255 have been discharged.
Trump, in a telephone conversation with Buhari, gave assurances that the United States would stand by Nigeria in her fight to stamp out COVID-19.
According to presidential media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, the two leaders commiserated with each other on fatalities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in their respective countries.
They also shared ideas on how to successfully combat the global pandemic.
He said Buhari expressed condolences to the government and people of the United States over the fatalities recorded in the pandemic and expressed concern over the high rate of deaths caused by the disease across the world.
The statement added: “The associated negative impacts of the pandemic on the world’s economy also came up for discussion.
“The Nigerian president lauded his American counterpart for the various initiatives adopted by his government to contain the further spread of the virus across the United States.
“He indicated Nigeria’s readiness to cooperate with the United States to fight this common unseen enemy.
“President Buhari informed that Nigeria had taken a number of proactive measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 across the country.
“The president welcomed the valuable friendship and expressed appreciation to President Trump for reaching out at this time.”
However, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who earlier broke the news of the conversation between Buhari and Trump during the media briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja, said the US president promised to send some ventilators to Nigeria to help in managing COVID-19 cases.
“President Buhari used the opportunity to brief the American president on the steps that Nigeria is taking to contain the spread of the disease.
“For his part, President Trump assured (Buhari) that the United States stands in solidarity with Nigeria in this difficult time and promised to send ventilators to support the country in its fight against the pandemic,” Mohammed added.
Also speaking, the Chairman of PTF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, warned that the next phase after the easing of the lockdown would be demanding as it would require personal responsibility from every citizen.
Mustapha said drawing from the experience of previous pandemics that ravaged the world, it would not be a party time for Nigerians.
“This is the time for each and every one of us to take personal responsibility and the only way we can take personal responsibility is to take heed to the advisory, the medical advisory of keeping a safe distance, of personal hygiene, of wearing masks, of avoiding unnecessary travel and visitations because what will happen to every one of us going forward will depend on what we do.
“Government is doing the best it can to provide safety, resources, and facilities for us to combat COVID-19 but the reaction of the citizens on individual and collective basis will determine whether we will succeed or not,” Mustapha stated.
NCDC to Test 2m Persons in Three Months
At the press briefing, NCDC Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, unfolded plans to test two million people within the next three months.
He said the move was in line with the charge given by Buhari while addressing the nation on Monday to expand the nation’s testing capacity.
He added that the centre would work with development partners to achieve the target.
He also explained that Nigeria had so far conducted a total of 12,004 tests.
Ihekweazu, who acknowledged that the country was behind some other nations in testing capacity and the number so far tested for the virus, expressed worry that certain human factors were inhibiting the NCDC’s drive to carry out more tests and contact tracing.
“We have learnt from every other country and we have found out that the only way to achieve this is to test more people. Our strategic group that is attending to this outbreak has set itself a target of testing two million people in the next three months.
“This is a very ambitious target. We are working very hard with our development partners and friends to equip our laboratories to be able to make this happen,” he stated.
Ihekweazu expressed concern that frequent non-essential travels by people are threatening the efforts of NCDC to check the spread of the virus in Nigeria.
He explained that the goal of NCDC is to avoid the spread of the virus and to keep states with no-case or few cases exactly that way.
FG Sets up Expert Study Group on Pandemic
In his briefing, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said his ministry had set up a ministerial expert advisory committee, headed by a prominent virologist, to study the evolution and development of the COVID-19 outbreak and the responses in Nigeria. The team would also advise on the national strategy and action plan, using lessons learned across the globe.
“This will help us to identify and adopt the promising strategies and align our plans with best practices and advisories,” he said.
Ehanire added that there’s a national concern about the sharp increase of COVID-19 cases in Kano, concentrated in seven municipal council areas and also about certain so-called “unexplained” deaths.
He said his ministry had sent a nine-man delegation to Kano on a fact-finding mission and to support the COVID-19 response in the state.
Chinese Medical Personnel Test Negative
Ehanire also said the Chinese doctors, who arrived in Nigeria on April 8 with medical supplies to aid in the efforts to combat the pandemic, had tested negative for the virus.
He said his ministry had concluded the close monitoring of the team.
“As for the Chinese persons who came in, the tests have been done after their 14 days quarantine. All of them were negative. The Federal Ministry of Health is done with that particular case,” he said.
Ehanire: We Don’t Have Social Structure to Sustain Lockdown
Ehanire also stated that the relaxation of the lockdown by the federal government is the right decision as the country does not have the social structure to keep it going.
Speaking on Arise Television, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers yesterday, he said the lockdown had a devastating effect on the economy, livelihood and social lives, adding that the relaxation would ease the economy disruption a little bit, while other measures are put in place to address the health concerns posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said: “We do not have the structures of other countries that are able to take care of their poor citizens in a very difficult time as this. We are not structured that way, so I think President Muhammadu Buhari made the right decision.
“With the relaxation, there is more likelihood of people running into other persons with COVID-19, and it is clearly impracticable to always expect sufficient social distancing with community spread, hence other measures have been instituted to ensure the virus is halted. And one of such measures is the compulsory use of face masks. Therefore if Nigerians are able to protect themselves with an extra layer like face masks or handkerchief, we will reduce the possibility of sharing droplets.
“Mask wearing alone is not the only measure to take. People should wash their hands regularly, use sanitisers and spending time mostly at home.
“Travel restrictions are still in place because the virus is transported from one person to the other. Travel restrictions are very important. The curfew put in place will help stop night travels, especially since interstate travels are banned, those who may want to travel at night would then be contravening the law.”
He listed some of the constraints in the fight against COVID-19 to include tracing of contacts in cluster areas, delays in getting tests done and issues around transportation of samples, adding that despite having 15 laboratories, the government is working on improving its courier and delivery service of samples.
“We pray the virus doesn’t get to hard-to-reach areas because we are doing well with tracking those in the cities. Contact tracing has to be very efficient, especially now that there are suspicions of some cases coming into the country from the land borders. We have no choice now but to increase testing capacity and ramp it up by three months.
“On the shortage of health workers, we are recruiting people all the time. I don’t think the shortage is what is affecting testing, it is the strategy for testing we need to work on,” Ehanire added.
He said Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), and the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) were all working towards finding vaccines and cure for the virus, adding that the federal government has given researchers the support to address the pandemic.
Private Sector Relief Fund Hits N27.16bn
Donations to the private sector relief fund championed by CBN to raise funds to combat the pandemic had risen to N27.160 billion as of April 23, up from the N25.894 billion reported previously.
A statement issued yesterday on behalf of the coalition by CBN Director, Corporate Communications, Mr. Isaac Okoroafor, showed that the number of contributors into the fund has increased from the 107 reported previously, to a total of 123 individuals and organisations.
Okoroafor, while urging more Nigerians and corporate bodies to contribute to the fund, charged them to do their part in checking any further spread of the virus.
“The coalition is grateful to all the institutions and individuals that have open-handedly donated to this fund.
“We urge others to consider contributing to this national solidarity to provide not only medical equipment and materials, but also to render urgently needed palliatives to the poor and vulnerable segments of our society.
“We pledge to continually ensure full disclosure and accountability for all donations made,” CBN spokesman added.
The objective of CACOVID is to mobilise private sector leadership and private sector resources; increase general public awareness, education, and buy-in and provide direct support to private and public healthcare ability to respond to the crisis as well as support the federal government’s efforts.
UNIBEN Produces Clinically Tested Ventilator
A group of researchers at University of Benin (UNIBEN) has produced a clinically-tested ventilator to manage COVID-19 patients in the state.
UNIBEN’s Public Relations Officer, Mrs. Benedicta Ehanire, in a statement issued yesterday, said the feat was attained by researchers drawn from the institution’s Faculties of Engineering and Medical Sciences.
She said the group, led by Prof. Kensington Obahiagbon, took into consideration the peculiar circumstances of the country while producing the ventilator.
According to her, the project has now been presented to the university’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Lilian Salami, alongside other members of the school management.
Speaking on the project, Obahiagbon said: “The ventilator was produced to work without electricity for at least one hour.”
Germany Donates Additional €5.5m to Nigeria
Germany has announced another financial intervention to assist Nigeria in its response to the pandemic.
The country, in a statement via its Twitter handle, @GERinNigeria, yesterday, said it was providing €5.5 million to support vulnerable people in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states.
The statement read: “Germany provides an additional €5.5 million (N2.2 billion) to the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Nigeria to continue life-saving aid in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Ongoing activities include drilling of wells, construction of sanitation facilities, rehabilitation of buildings or construction of shelters for internally displaced persons and other victims of insecurity in the North-east.
“This brings Germany’s contribution to NHF to a total of €29 million since it became operational in May 2017, making Germany a major donor to NHF over the past three years.”
FG Seeks Access to Vehicles Conveying Food
The presidency has directed that immediate access be granted to all vehicles carrying products on the exemption list issued by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, especially those conveying food items.
In a statement yesterday by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, in Abuja, the presidency directed that all those conveying exempted products like pharmaceuticals, agricultural products and others should be allowed access to any parts of the country.
It, however, warned that those in each vehicle should not exceed three and must be in possession of prescribed basic sanitary items like face masks and sanitisers.
“The restrictions of movement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic do not apply to vehicles transporting essential commodities, such as food.
“The country cannot afford a situation where agricultural products are being left to rot in trucks held at various checkpoints when millions of Nigerians across the country need food. COVID-19 or no COVID-19, Nigerians need to eat,” it said.
FG Says No Date Yet for Resumption of Schools
The federal government has also said there is no date yet for schools to resume despite the announcement by Buhari relaxing the lockdown on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states.
The government also said the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) had not cancelled its external exams as students would still take those exams when normalcy has been restored.
The Minister of State for Education, Mr. Emeka Nwajiuba, said this while replying to a question during yesterday’s briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 pandemic.
Also at the press conference, the National Coordinator on PTF COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, said PTF was also working with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and would be willing to share the draft of the implementation guidelines with the forum, communicating the guidelines on the phased easing of the lockdown.
According to him, the move is also to ensure that the governors are aware of what PTF is proposing in order to have synergy on the lockdown.
He, however, said it would not be necessary to conduct COVID-19 test for drivers going across state boundaries, noting that doing that would imply NCDC would have to move more staff across all the states to make sure everybody is being tested as they cross.