Nigeria: Buhari Sad Over Coronavirus, Asks Nigerians Not to Panic

Images combined from a 3D medical animation, depicting the shape of coronavirus as well as the cross-sectional view. Image shows the major elements including the Spike S protein, HE protein, viral envelope, and helical RNA.
2 March 2020

President Muhammadu Buhari at the weekend expressed sadness over the index case of Coronavirus in Lagos, admonishing citizens not to panic.

The president, in a statement by presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, last night lamented the incident despite what he described as the level of preparation against it.

According to the statement, the president commended the Federal Ministry of Health and other agencies whose efficiency, he said, helped in swift diagnosis, isolation and follow up on the matter.

According to the statement, the president praised the governments of Ogun and Lagos States as well as some citizens for their vigilance and prompt responses to the incident.

While advising against panicking over the index case, Buhari said raising alarm over the incident would do more harm than good.

Instead, he encouraged Nigerians to heed the advisories issued by both the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as being aired by the Federal Ministry of Information.

No Cause for Alarm, Emefiele Assures Investors

Also preaching hope, the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, allayed fears of the outbreak of COVID-19 eroding investments in the country, urging both local and foreign investors not to fret.

Speaking to THISDAY at the weekend, Emefiele, who assured the investors that there was no cause to panic, commended the efforts by the federal government and the Lagos State government to contain the situation.

With the viral outbreak spreading to more countries, the price of oil has dropped precipitously as global demand weakened even further. The benchmark Brent crude dropped 14 per cent last week to its lowest levels since July 2017, closing Friday at $50.52 a barrel, below the country's 2020 budget benchmark of $57 per barrel.

Also, the global stock markets plummeted for a seventh consecutive day last Friday, due to the deadly virus.

This is just as the Nigerian equities market declined in February, with the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) All-Share Index (NSE ASI) falling by 9.1 per cent, while market capitalisation shed N1.119 trillion.

Also, the treasury market recorded a mild performance as average yield rose one basis points week-on-week to 3.9 per cent. The 182-day instrument enjoyed the most buying interest, while the 91- day instrument closed flat at 2.9 per cent and sell-offs were recorded in the 364-day instruments as yields advanced to 5.6 per cent.

But Emefiele, who described the situation as an unfortunate incident which has taken the global economy by surprise, expressed optimism that countries were making efforts to see to its fast eradication.

He said: "In terms of whether or not it would affect economic growth in the global economy, we think that it would affect global growth. However, it is a temporary phenomenon - temporary in the sense that given all the efforts being made by countries where this unfortunate virus has been detected, we think that the resolution to the problem is in sight.

"As a result, its effect on the economies affected would be short-lived. For us in Nigeria, luckily, the incident that has been discovered is currently being handled professionally and we are confident that it will not adversely affect the country.

"However, as a result of this, we have seen that the global stock market in the last one week has suffered drastic decline as a result of the widespread of the virus in different parts of the world, which has unfortunately affected the price of crude oil."

According to him, Nigeria being an oil exporting country would naturally be affected as a result of the drop in the price of crude oil.

But he noted that the disease was a temporary phenomenon, adding that its effect on the Nigerian economy would be very minimal.

"As a result, I am advising foreign and local investors to go about their business. The Nigerian economy remains resilient, the monetary and fiscal authorities are currently focused on diversifying the economy away from being heavily reliant on oil and one of these is the example of the Dangote Refinery, which we just visited, where in the month of May, the fertilizer plant will begin commercial production," he added.

He reiterated that the Dangote plant, which is currently being test-run, would become a major source of forex revenue for the country.

"As for the refinery and the petrochemical plant, they are obviously one of the biggest in the world. We believe that when these refinery and petrochemical plants come into operation by the first quarter of next year, it would save the country at least 20 per cent of the cost of forex spent importing petroleum products in this country.

"That will massively help the country's reserves and therefore can be seen to be in consonance with the drive to reduce the import of items that can be produced in Nigeria," he added.

FG Intensifies Airport Procedures to Contain COVID 19

Meanwhile, the federal government has activated all airport-specific Public Health Emergency Contingency Plans (PHECPs) as part of efforts to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, in Nigeria.

The Director General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, said in a statement yesterday that travellers returning from countries experiencing community transmission of the COVID-19 must present themselves to Port Health Services on arrival at the Point of Entry.

After series of tests on persons suspected of contracting the virus, which turned out negative, Nigeria officially recorded its first case of COVID-19 last Friday with the discovery of an index case in an Italian in Lagos.

The Italian, who came into Nigeria a few days before he started exhibiting signs of the virus, has been quarantined and is said to be in a stable condition.

However, as part of efforts to curb the spread of the virus, the federal government said more attention would be paid to incoming travellers, especially from countries with reported cases of COVID-19. So far, the virus, which broke out in Wuhan, a Chinese town in 2019, has been confirmed in 55 countries and six others reporting suspected cases.

"There will be minimum disruption to facilitation of travel due to the thorough screening at entry post. We appeal to travellers who develop signs and symptoms of the disease after returning from a trip abroad to seek immediate medical attention at the nearest health facility.

"We are working in assistance with airlines to track passengers who may have come in contact with suspect or ill persons as well as other measures the National Surveillance Systems requires," the federal government said through the NCAA.

Nuhu advised airlines and other airport users to heed the guidance of Port Health Services on the use of screening forms, assessment of suspect or ill travellers and any other measures they may adopt.

According to him, the NCAA has ensured that all measures adopted at Nigerian airports are in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and WHO International Health Regulations (IHR 2005).

"In line with the guidelines of ICAO and Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA), we have been working with the Federal Ministry of Health and other stakeholders in the aviation industry to ensure all travellers coming into the country are adequately screened while causing minimum disruption to facilitation of travel," he added.

The NCAA boss advised the travelling public to remain calm and alert, take necessary precaution in protecting themselves while travelling, including alerting crew members and airport facilitation staff to travellers that may look ill or showing signs and symptoms of the disease.

"Airlines, airport operators, security agencies and other aviation industry stakeholders are advised to take appropriate precaution to protect their staff," he stated.

FCTA Places Nine Chinese on Self-isolation

The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Administration has asked nine foreigners, mainly Chinese, who arrived in the country through the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to observe self-isolation for 14 days and report symptoms including, respiratory track disease, severe fever, cough and sneezing consistent with COVID-19 to the health authorities.

The Director, FCT Primary Health Care, Dr. Josephine Okechukwu, yesterday, while speaking on the readiness of the FCT health authorities to tackle Coronavirus said that the foreigners voluntarily offered to be in self-isolation in their homes for two weeks, having arrived from one of the countries mainly afflicted by the scourge, which has already affected 70,000 people globally out of which 2,000 have died.

Okechukwu, however, allayed fears of an outbreak in the FCT.

She said: "There is no identified case of Coronavirus in the FCT. We are screening all the passengers coming from some of these high risk countries by taking their temperature. What we also do is that if we have suspected cases from some of the foreign visitors, we advise them to stay in their homes for 14 days and monitor the signs associated with the disease. We have about nine Chinese that went into self-isolation, as it is simply impossible for us to quarantine every suspected case."

She added that although the territory was yet to record any case of Coronavirus, proactive preparations had been stepped up to curtail the disease.

She added that about 300 health care workers mainly doctors, nurses and laboratory scientists from the tertiary, secondary health facilities were last week trained in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), on Coronavirus surveillance.

She said the FCTA had created Coronavirus isolation units at the National Hospital and University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada for suspected victims.

However, she stated that as the reserved facilities, made up of two beds each, were deemed to be grossly insufficient, the health authority has initiated talks with the FCT Permanent Secretary, Mr. Chinyeka Ohaa, on the feasibility of acquiring a bigger accommodation.

In Edo State, government has deployed health officials in Benin Airport and all the motor parks in the state to screen travellers coming into the state.

The Deputy Governor, Hon. Philip Shaibu, said at a meeting with stakeholders in the health sector and the representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO), at Government House, in Benin City that the state government decided to start screening from all the entry points into the state to prevent any spread of the disease to Edo.

According to him, the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital is going to be a centre for screening of any suspected cases of Coronavirus.

In his remarks, the Chief Medical Director of Irrua Specialist Hospital, Prof. Sylvanus Okogbeni, said the hospital was capable of carrying out diagnosis.

The State Coordinator of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Mrs. Faith Ireye, said the manifest of the airline boarded by the Italian man should be made available to the Edo State government, adding that Italy is the second home of Edo people.

In Benue State, the Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, has set up Emergency Response Committee, headed by the state Commissioner for Health and Human Services, Dr. Sunday Ongbabor.

Other members of the committee include Dr. Samuel Ngise, Secretary; Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Hon. Ngunan Addingi; Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, Mr. Dondo Ahire, as well as Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Dr. Timothy Ijir.

Ortom also directed that the surveillance on Coronavirus be stepped up in the 23 local government areas of the state.

Already, a treatment centre has been established at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital and a location identified to be used as quarantine unit in the event of any outbreak of the disease.

The 43 suspected coronavirus cases that were isolated for 14 days in Plateau State have tested negative.

Plateau State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Nimkong Larndam, said there was no confirmed case of coronavirus in the state.

He said: "We have four Chinese miners who just returned from holidays in China; since they came from another country that is heavily infected with the virus, they could be suspected to have the virus. But the Chinese were screened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; they were also screened in Abuja airport, and in those screenings they were proved negative.

"Even though the suspects were not positive, such people are supposed to be isolated for 14 days. So we have isolated them between now and 11th of March.

"It is not only the four Chinese that we had to isolate; all the people that had contacts with the Chinese on their return to Wase had to be fished and isolated too."

NESG Calls for Upgrade of Preventive Capacity

However, despite Emefiele's assurance, the NESG has stated that given Nigeria's increasingly close economic links with China, it is imperative to upgrade national preventive readiness and ensure adequate capacity to isolate any infected person entering Nigeria.

NESG said it was also important for Nigeria's public policy to note the adverse effects of the disease on global economic growth, especially commodity prices and adjust to ameliorate these adverse effects.

A communiqué issued at the first meeting of the year by the Board of Directors of the NESG reviewed the global and domestic economic and financial environments, as well as the outlook for the rest of the year 2020.

It noted that the Nigerian economy remained very fragile through a combination of slow growth and vulnerability to changes in external conditions, especially oil price fluctuations.

"The Board notes that 10 out of the 46 sectors of the economy, contributing approximately 27.1 per cent of output, contracted in 2019. A review of performance by the various economic sectors showed that the agriculture sector continues to grow slowly. Whilst the service sector, at 53 per cent, remained the largest contributor to output, growth in these sectors is adversely affected by issues, which include rising incidences of insecurity and continuing closure of our nation's border.

"The Board noted that during 2019, a combination of lower than anticipated oil prices and the OPEC cap on crude oil production resulted in public revenue continuing to perform below expectations. This has led to rising public indebtedness and budget underperformance. The Board commends the federal government for the enactment of the Finance Act - a law which has the potential to significantly and sustainably improve fiscal transparency and effectiveness," the communiqué said.

It explained that the increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) from five per cent to 7.5 per cent would improve non-oil revenue for the government - especially for the sub-national governments.

It is, however, important for stimulating output growth and sustaining competitiveness of the economy to ensure that higher levels of taxation do not choke the fragile growth, it stated.

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