Eniola Akinkuotu and Maureen Ihua-Maduenyi
The 33 foreign airlines operating flights into Nigeria may suffer a major blow as the Federal Government says it will in a few days shut the international wings of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.
The Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Capt Musa Nuhu, in a statement on Thursday announced the closure of the three other international airports in the country, namely Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, and the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, thereby restricting international flights to only Lagos and Abuja airports.
The statement noted that the closure would be till further notice effective 12am today. It noted that this was part of precautionary measures taken by the government to curb the spread of coronavirus.
On Friday, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, told journalists in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, would make the announcement at the appropriate time.
But speaking on Friday, the minister said the Federal Government planned to close every gap that could further spread the COVID-19 in the country.
He said, “Yes, we are going to shut all international airports. Domestic operations will not be disrupted. The shutdown will be in a few days, just to allow the necessary ‘Notice to Airmen’ to be issued accordingly.”
Consequently, the 33 foreign airlines operating flights into Nigeria, according to the statistics from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, might take a financial hit following the closure.
Some of the foreign airlines expected to be affected are British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, AirFrance, KLM, Delta Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, South African Airways, Kenyan Airways, Rwandair, Turkish Airlines, Egypt Air, Royal Air Maroc and Africa World Airlines.
Data from the NCAA showed that from January to December 2019, the foreign airlines recorded 15,474 flights into the five international airports in Nigeria with an average of 298 flights weekly.
This is coming barely 24 hours after the International Air Transport Association said the disruption to air travel due to the continued spread of coronavirus would cost Nigeria’s aviation industry over N160.58bn (using Bureau de Change rate of N370 to $1) ($434m) in revenue and 22,200 jobs.
IATA, which is an umbrella body for 290 airlines globally, added that Nigeria would also lose approximately 2.2 million passengers, adding that the spread of the virus would negatively impact the aviation industry worldwide.
Efforts to reach the President, Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria, Mr Kingsley Nwokoma, on Friday night, were not successful.
But earlier in the week, he said the industry had been passing through a very difficult time since the outbreak of the disease.
Nwokoma said there was slow traffic, cancellation of flights, and reduction in cargo traffic.
“When it started, it was like a joke and we all thought it will soon pass away; cargo and aviation generally have taken a big hit,” he said.
He said cargo warehouses had become empty as most shipments were from China.
The NCAA DG had said in his statement that the directive was as a result of the Federal Government’s travel ban on 13 countries, which rose to 15 countries following the addition of Sweden and Austria on Friday.
The government by the directive restricted entry for travellers from the countries, but noted that Nigerians, diplomats and foreigners resident in the country travelling from the listed countries would be subjected to supervised self-isolation for 14 days after arrival.
The disease, which was first discovered in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019, was first detected in Nigeria on February 27 when a 44-year-old Italian tested positive for the virus.
As of Thursday night, the number of cases in Nigeria had risen to 12, with 1,300 persons who had direct and indirect contacts with the infected persons placed under watch.
As of Friday night, the disease had spread to 184 out of 195 countries and territories around the world, with 271,598 cases recorded while 11,299 deaths had been recovered. However, 90,605 persons had so far recovered.
NAFDAC approves chloroquine for clinical trial
Meanwhile, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control has approved the production of Chloroquine for clinical trial in tackling the virus.
Speaking in Lagos on Friday, the Director-General of the agency, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, stressed that NAFDAC was not approving Chloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 but for clinical trials to find treatment for the virus.
This came a day after the United States President Donald Trump said the country’s Food and Drug Administration had approved the drug to treat the virus, even though the FDA later said it had not approved the drug for treatment but that the drug could be used for clinical trial.
Adeyeye said, “In the case of Chloroquine, it has been demonstrated in the literature and with clinical research which is still ongoing, that chloroquine is superior to the Placebo.
“NAFDAC is not approving Chloroquine as a product that can be used for coronavirus because there is no submission to us for registration but because it is under clinical trials, NAFDAC approves medicines meant for clinical trial.
“Therefore the medicine is being approved just for the clinical trials.”
The NAFDAC boss called on experts and researchers interested in doing a clinical trial on chloroquine to approach approved outlets, adding that a drug company had been given an approval to produce chloroquine in batches.
“Right now, we have asked one company to make a batch of chloroquine for the purpose of clinical trial,” Adeyeye added.
Adeyeye also urged Nigerians not to use chloroquine as anti-malaria because it was no longer effective for treating malaria.
“Nobody should use chloroquine as anti-malaria because of the resistance that has been proven to develop in the past after the use of chloroquine in the population,” she said.
Lagos to conduct clinical trial on effectiveness of chloroquine – Abayomi
However, Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, has said the state government will conduct clinical trial on the effectiveness of chloroquine in the prevention or management of COVID-19 infection.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Abayomi while speaking in Lagos on Friday stated that the clinical trial would be initiated following the fast-spreading news that chloroquine could be effective in preventing and managing the virus.
NAN quoted the commissioner as saying that the use of chloroquine had not yet been ascertained as an effective treatment of the disease.
He said, “We do not have any hard evidence that chloroquine is effective in preventing or managing COVID-19. We are watching the global research space to clearly define its efficiency in COVID-19.”
According to him, chloroquine has significant side effects and should not be used without medical supervision, saying it could cause more harm than good.
He added that the public should await his directive for the use of Chloroquine.
Nigeria no longer uses chloroquine but could weigh options –Minister
At an earlier press briefing in Abuja on Friday, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said Nigeria had stopped using chloroquine and would not take to the advice of the US President on the use of the drug to treat coronavirus.
The minister said, “We no longer use chloroquine in Nigeria. We are not following President Donald Trump’s announcement. We look at what the World Health Organisation recommends and what our own scientists here recommend. So far, there are things that have been said about chloroquine.
“There are things said about chloroquine that it was active in vitro tests and not proved to be active in vivo. In vitro means testing outside the human body; it appears to be active. In vivo means testing it against the germs inside the body but not proven to be so active.
“That is what we know so far but the situation might change. We are not necessarily going to look at that but we are not ignoring the possibility and option. But of the cases we have had so far, we have not been in a situation where we are required to use chloroquine.”
Following information that chloroquine would be used for clinical trial, some residents of Abuja on Friday trooped to pharmacies to purchase the drug in an apparent bid to protect themselves against the virus.
Sahara Reporters reported that owing to the surge in demand, pharmacies in most parts of the city had taken advantage of the development to sell the drug for N1,000 as against N400.
A pharmacist told the online medium that some customers bought as much as 10 to 20 packs each in anticipation of the scarcity of the drug in the markets, especially as the virus continues to spread in the country.
He said, “Many customers came here this morning to buy as many as 10 to 20 packs because it was announced in the US that it can cure the virus. As you can see I don’t have a single pack left again. They have bought everything.”
The pharmacist noted that suppliers had started hoarding the drug.
Ekiti, Nasarawa place 47 in isolation
In another development, the Governments of Ekiti and Nasarawa states have placed 47 persons in isolation to contain the spread of the virus.
Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, in a statewide broadcast on Friday said, “Our contact tracing team has identified 42 direct and indirect contacts of this imported Ekiti index case, most of whom came in contact with him in the process of managing the illness which took him to hospital.
“None of the contacts show any symptoms and are all being observed under self-isolation. In the next 14 days, their samples will be collected and sent to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control for testing and we will update the public on the results and any further developments as we receive them.
“The Ekiti State Isolation Centre has been activated since the confirmation of the positive case, who is currently on admission there, though he is very stable and showing no symptoms as of this morning. Basic amenities to make the stay comfortable have been provided and medical equipment that may be needed for the symptomatic management of positive cases are being provided.”
The governor also banned social, political, religious and family gatherings of more than 20 persons, adding that all public and private schools in the state would be closed from Monday. He said all non-essential workers in private and public sectors are also encouraged to work from home from Monday.
The state on March 18 recorded its first case when a 38-year-old native of the state resident in Ibadan tested positive for the virus, having come into contact with a 27-year-old American, who visited Nigeria from the US. The patient was conveying the American, in company with his caregiver, a 31-year-old citizen of the state, around as they were on holiday.
In Nasarawa State, no fewer than five persons from the same family have also been quarantined in the Federal Medical Centre, Keffi, for suspected cases of the virus.
The state Commissioner for Health, Mr Ahmed Yahaya, at a press conference in Lafia, the state capital on Friday, said the five persons, who arrived in Keffi from Ogun State on Thursday, showed some symptoms and that they voluntarily submitted themselves for isolation.
According to him, their blood samples have been taken to the NCDC in Abuja for testing, saying he was optimistic of the results being ready by Saturday (today) and that they would remain in isolation until the results were out.
He, however, said the state was considering closing all schools in the state to prevent an outbreak of the disease, adding that government was making consultations with critical stakeholders on the possibility of restricting gatherings in the state.
Sanwo-Olu shuts nightclubs, event centres, tertiary institutions
Meanwhile, Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has ordered the closure of nightclubs, cinemas, bars and social gatherings in the state in a bid to stop the virus from spreading.
Sanwo-Olu, who announced the ban at a press briefing on Friday, explained that religious activities, wedding and burial receptions, as well as political gatherings, were also affected by the order.
The governor asked residents to avoid large gatherings for whatever reason, saying their cooperation was needed to curb the spread of the virus.
He also announced the closure of all public schools in the state, effective from March 23, 2020, while ordering that all state-owned tertiary institutions should be shut down immediately.
He added, “All our tertiary institutions are hereby directed to shut down immediately and we must abstain from any large gathering of people for whatever reason.
“This means that gatherings at event centres and clubs, both day and night, are also affected by this directive. We must learn from other examples in South Korea and Singapore. The disease spread largely through gatherings both at religious and other spheres.”
The governor also warned that the Bus Rapid Transit in the state should not carry more than 47 at a time and that drivers of commercial buses should avoid overcrowding. He advised residents against panic-buying, saying the city was not on a lockdown. He, therefore, called on the police to strictly enforce the directive.
Calm in Oyo as suspected case tests negative, Makinde orders schools closure
There was a relief in Oyo State on Friday as the state government confirmed that the results of the test conducted on a suspected case of the virus came out negative.
There had been tension in the state following the state government’s disclosure on Thursday that a suspected case of the virus was in self-isolation and that his sample had been taken to Lagos University Teaching Hospital for screening.
While briefing journalists on the results in Ibadan on Friday, Governor Seyi Makinde said the suspected case of the virus tested negative as he ordered the immediate closure of all schools in the state from Monday till after Easter.
On whether the state would shut worship centres, the governor said religious leaders should use their discretion, stressing that the state government had decided to make it voluntary.
He advised residents to maintain social distance and ensure that they did not gather in large groups at anytime from now until it is ascertained that the virus had been fully contained.
“These are part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus,” he said.
While urging residents to adhere to hygiene measures such as washing of hands and using of hand sanitisers, Makinde said the state would purchase protective equipment and ambulance services across the state, adding that the state had designated the Maternal Centre at Olodo as the State Infectious Disease Centre. He said the state would open a diagnostic centre within 72 hours.