Chinese doctors’ flight: How three airline crew members ‘disappeared’ from Lagos quarantine centre

Oyetunji Abioye

Three out of the 17 pilots and flight attendants who flew 14 Chinese medical doctors and medical supplies from China to Nigeria on Wednesday have boycotted the Lagos quarantine centre provided by the Lagos State Government, investigations by Sunday PUNCH have revealed.

The crew, who flew Air Peace’s Boeing 777-200ER jumbo jet from China, landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

The 17 pilots and flight attendants later on Wednesday proceeded to Lagos to be quarantined by the Lagos State Government in line with an agreement the Ministry of Health reached with the carrier’s management.  The Chinese medical personnel were quarantined in Abuja.

Air Peace partnered the Federal Government to ferry the 14-member Chinese medical team and medical supplies from China to Nigeria.

The Chinese team brought about 16 tons of test kits, ventilators, disinfection machine, disposable medical masks, N95 masks, medications, rubber gloves, protective gowns, goggles, face shields, infra-red thermometers and others.

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who was at the airport to receive the Chinese doctors and their supplies, said the team would be quarantined for two weeks.

He said, “They knew that before they came and have undergone tests before they left their country.

“Nevertheless, they will be in quarantine for 14 days. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control has gone to see where they will be quarantined.”

Ehanire added: “The equipment (they brought) will assist a lot to fill some existing gaps. We now have 50 more ventilators.”

However, Sunday PUNCH investigation showed that the flight crew members disagreed with Port Health Services officials on duty at Lagos airport over the 14-day compulsory quarantine.

Port Health Services is a unit of the Ministry of Health that screens arriving and departing passengers of infectious diseases especially COVID-19.

On arrival at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos at about 10pm on Wednesday, the flight crew initially refused to be quarantined.

Ministry of Health sources confirmed that the pilots and cabin crew members claimed their management did not inform them of the 14-day compulsory quarantine.

As such, the flight personnel initially refused to follow the port health officials to the quarantine centre provided by the Lagos State Government.

There was subsequently a heated exchange that lasted for about three hours over the 14-day compulsory quarantine between the crew and the port health officials.

After several calls by the port health officials on duty to top officials of the Ministry of Health in Abuja as well as top officials of the Lagos State Ministry of Health, the crew members bowed to pressure and agreed to go to the quarantine centre at about 1am.

On arriving the Scholars Lodge at the University of Lagos where the state government had prepared for the crew to be quarantine around 2am, another debate ensued over the type of the apartment provided.

The crew members insisted that they wanted a single-user apartment for each member of the crew instead of the two-bedroom apartment meant to be shared by two persons which the state provided.

Top health officials told Sunday PUNCH the crew asked officers on duty to take them to another facility as the apartments were not the type they wanted.  This debate, it was learnt, went on for another three hours till about 5 am before the crew finally agreed to stay at the centre.

Meanwhile, before the crew departed the Lagos airport, one of the 17 crew members had escaped and left apparently for his house, unknown to the port health officials.

This was not discovered until Thursday evening when a head count was conducted at the quarantine centre.

It was also at this time officials discovered that two out of the 16 crew members brought to the Scholars Lodge had also escaped.

Findings by Sunday PUNCH revealed that the Ministry of Health and Lagos State Government had reached out to the management of the airline over the whereabouts of the two crew members.

As of the time of filing this report, it had yet to be ascertained where the two crew members were.

When contacted on Friday, the Director, Port Health Services, Ministry of Health, Dr Morenike Alex-Okoh, in her reaction, said she was not authorised to speak on the matter. She directed our correspondent to the minister of health or the health ministry’s permanent secretary.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Abdullahi Mashi, confirmed the development but noted that the cabin crew members who left the quarantine centre had returned to the facility, saying “they are back now.”

Asked further about the health risks of the crew leaving the quarantine, having met several other contacts during that period, Mashi said, “They are back, it is left for the Lagos State surveillance team to work on that. They will do the needful. The important thing is that they are back.”

Air Peace also confirmed the development but did not explain the reasons the crew members left the facility.

The Chief Operating Officer, Air Peace, Mrs Toyin Olajide, in a terse message to Sunday PUNCH said, “All crew are back in the quarantine facility, including the engineer.”

Asked when the crew members returned to the facility, she said “Friday afternoon.”

She did not give reasons the crew left the quarantine facility.

Also, the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Dr Olusegun Ogunye, when contacted on the matter, confirmed the development but noted that all the 17 pilots and flight attendants were back in the facility.

Ogunye, who spoke through the spokesperson for the state health ministry, Mr Tubosun Ogubanwo, said, “The state government has reached out to all the 17 pilots and flight attendants through the Epidemiology and Surveillance Team on COVID-19. So, all 17 of them are now together.”

Asked further on the health implications of the crew leaving the quarantine centre and returning after about 24 hours, Ogunye said, “What I want you to know is that the state government has reached out to them and necessary action has been taken. I believe the team is in charge of it.”

(PUNCH)

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