Olufemi Atoyebi, Tobi Aworinde, Daud Olatunji and Wale Oyewale
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, on Friday, said that Chinese doctors, nurses and medical experts would arrive in Nigeria in a few days to assist in the fight against COVID-19.
The minister said this during a briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja.
Cases in Nigeria have reached 210 as the global figure also surpassed one million mark. He said Nigeria was also exploring the possibility of producing some medical equipment after key stakeholders met in Abuja on Thursday.
The coming of the Chinese medical experts was announced just as the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said efforts to contain COVID-19 in Nigeria were being limited by finance, manpower and other indices despite the support from government and individuals.
Ehanire said, “The global number has crossed one million mark, barely three months after the first cases were first reported in Wuhan, China. It is an indication that it is a public health challenge that we must not take lightly.”
He continued, “We are already seeing what may be the indication of community transmission, in that 30 per cent of the cases have incomplete epidemiological information. 51 per cent are imported cases and 19 per cent are through contacts of known cases.
“Directors of the Federal Ministry of Health had discussions with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment and Manufacturers Association of Nigeria to explore the potential for local production of medical consumables such as face masks, gloves, sanitisers and even ventilators.
“This is in view of looming global shortages of medical supplies for the response due to high demands from all countries. Clinical trials and other processes are ongoing to validate various therapeutic for COVID-19 treatment.”
After the briefing, Nigeria recorded 20 new cases: 11 in Lagos State, three in FCT, three in Edo State, two in Osun State and one in Ondo State.
Chinese medical supplies coming
Ehanire said he had been notified of medical supplies from China courtesy of a group of Chinese companies working in Nigeria.
“A special cargo aircraft shall leave Nigeria in a few days to collect the items which include Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators.
“Of great interest is that an 18-man team of medical experts from China, including doctors, nurses and medical experts shall come along with the flight to assist us,” he said.
More COVID-19 cases expected
The minister said more cases might be detected during the remaining days of the lockdown window, calling on officials to speed up their work.
He said, “We are using the small window of opportunity remaining to intensify investigation to identify cases and sources. This is one of the purposes of the lockdown of the two states (Lagos and Ogun) and the FCT.
“Lagos and other parts will need to speed up their activities to detect and isolate COVID-19 patients.
“We expect to see an increase in cases during the lockdown as a measure of improvement in case finding. If all measures and social distancing are followed, the incidence of positive cases can be controlled.”
Efforts limited by money, manpower
However, at the briefing, NCDC Director-General, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the major focus of the government was to increase capacity for testing more samples in the next few days while also lamenting limitation of finance, infrastructure and human resources.
He said, “We are not just limited by funds and infrastructure, but the biggest limitation is human resources; the people that are already trained in bio-nuclear diagnostic testing. This is not something you can take up people and ask them to volunteer and go into the laboratory and start testing.”
Ihekweazu noted that so far, Nigeria had tested samples from about 4,000 people, with more laboratories being added to the existing ones.
He added, “Today, we have tested about 4,000 people and we will continue to drive up this number. We have fulfilled every requirement for a test so there is nobody that has come forward (without being tested). There has been some delay but every single sample that has come forward has been tested.
“Currently, we have added one more laboratory. We now have eight testing laboratories. We have three laboratories working independently in Lagos; the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Nigerian Institute for Medical Research and the Biosecurity Centre in Lagos that used to work with LUTH. It has been completely separated.
“Ibadan and Abakaliki test centres have been activated already. Today (Friday), we are activating the second laboratory in Abuja to support everyone around the area. The next town is Kano; between Sunday and Monday, it will be activated for the northern part of Nigeria.”
Stating the contribution of the private sector, Ihekweazu said, “We have some exciting proposals that we are working through with private sector. They have come on board to support us in doing this.
“Some public sector organisations that have private-sector affiliations like the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Fund Authority are working with us on the proposal to increase laboratory locations in Nigeria. There is a lot of work going on in the background to increase our testing capacity.
“I want to remind everyone that testing will not solve this problem. There is a lot of focus on testing and energy going into it and research at a global stage to validate rapid diagnostic test kits that are being sold around the world. We are waiting for those results. Once they are validated, we will start offering it, until then, we cannot offer it.”
The NCDC DG debunked the insinuation that high-profile people were being favoured in the testing procedure, saying case definition was being followed strictly.
6,700 contacts identified
Ihekweazu said in terms of contact tracing, the NCDC had identified about 6,700 contacts cumulatively.
“Some of them have graduated out; when you follow a contact for 14 days and he does not become ill, we graduate the case out of the contact list. As of yesterday (Thursday), we have followed up on 71 per cent of that,” he said.
Jack Ma kits under validation
Ihekweazu also noted that the test kits donated by Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma, had yet to be used because they were being validated. He said this on the backdrop of insinuation that some Chinese kits were faulty.
He noted, “We will never deploy a test kit until we validate it. That process is ongoing. We are still using the kits we had before the donation from Jack Ma came in.
“Once we are sure that they (the kits) will provide answers equivalent to the test case we have, then we will deploy them.”
Lagos, Abuja to have mobile testing centres
On the need to increase testing, Ihekweazu said the mobile testing centres currently being used in South Africa would soon be in use in Lagos and Abuja. He, however, explained that they were only going to be used to collect samples.
FG mobilises evacuation of foreign-based Nigerians
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has said the Federal Government in collaboration with the foreign missions and that embassies are taking steps to effect the evacuation of Nigerians in the Diaspora amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who spoke during a live briefing of the PTF in Abuja on Friday, said the Federal Government would ascertain the number of affected Nigerians before deciding on its approach for evacuation.
FG reviews flight protocol, allows crews rest
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has reviewed its protocol on flights amid the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory over the coronavirus.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had, during a live briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Tuesday, made exemptions for diplomatic flights, aircraft carrying food, medical equipment and other humanitarian items, as well as those in distress, among others.
He, however, added that all pilots and crew would be required to remain on board.
But during a similar briefing of the PTF in Abuja on Friday, Sirika noted some changes to the protocol for flights.
Ogun third case now negative —Abiodun
Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun on Friday, said the 62-year-old third case of coronavirus in the state had been tested negative and would be discharged on Friday night.
Abiodun said the male patient, who returned to Nigeria from the United Kingdom on March 17, and tested positive for COVID–19, had been tested twice.
Oyo records five new suspected cases
The Oyo State COVID-19 Emergency Operation Centre indicated on Saturday that a total of five suspected cases had been received at the centre in the last 24 hours.
As of the time of filing this report, there were a total of 50 suspected cases of the viral infection in the state, while a total of 50 samples had been taken for test.