Nigeria: Returning From China, Disease Control Boss Goes Into Self-Isolation

Nigeria Centre for Disease Control Director-General Chikwe Ihekweazu rubbished reports that he is in quarantine after testing negative for COVID-19, saying: "I am well and have continued my duties from home since my return from China as part of the WHO-China Mission on #COVID19. The rumour that I am sick or in quarantine is obviously false.I look forward to returning to the office after 14 days of self-isolation."
4 March 2020

Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, is now undergoing 14-day self-isolation to allow for confirmation that he is not infected with COVID-19, following his recent return from China.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, told the Senate yesterday that Ihekweazu was in China as part of a World Health Organisation (WHO) team to understudy the behavioural patterns of those who have contracted the virus.

However, a Chinese national who came into Nigeria on Sunday night and was quarantined by the Lagos State government has tested negative to Coronavirus.

The state has also activated outbreak protocols in five general hospitals and its Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in preparation for an eventual outbreak of the disease.

The House of Representatives yesterday also resolved to suspend plenary for 14 days from a date yet to be decided to enable the lawmakers to sensitise their constituents on the outbreak of Coronavirus.

In Anambra State, the government has screened all Chinese citizens living in the state to check the dreaded virus while the Bayelsa State government is to identify and screen foreigners and to keep close watch on Brass Local Government Area where many foreigners work as part of preventive measures to stop the spread of the virus to the state.

However, the Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF) has pledged to support the current efforts by the federal government against Coronavirus with N200 million.

Ehanire, while briefing the Senate leadership on government's efforts to tackle the Coronavirus scourge, said the NCDC boss returned at the weekend from an official visit to China where he understudied the behavioral pattern of Coronavirus patients.

According to him, Ihekweazu, was one of the WHO officials that spent nine days in China.

He said: "We were honoured that one of the scientists that WHO had chosen to go to China to study the disease was the DG of NCDC. They went there for nine days, during which they carry out investigation."

He added that although the NCDC boss had tested negative upon his arrival, he would still be quarantined for 14 days in line with established safety procedure against coronavirus.

"We have already established rules here that anybody who has been to China will go to self-quarantine. Chikwe has gone (to China) and came back and has done the test. It's negative; but we have insisted that he must undergo the 14 days of quarantine which is why he was not here today.

"He is not allowed to come out until after 14 days\ because if you make rules, you must also obey them, which is to set example for Nigerians that the head of NCDC is self- quarantined as we speak. He's very well but he has to follow the rules," the minister stated.

Speaking on the level of government preparedness to tackle coronavirus, he explained that there are already established isolation centres in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt to respond to any emergency.

But giving an update on coronavirus in Lagos State, where the index case occurred last week, the Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, said the Chinese national had been taken to the isolation centre in Yaba where his sample had been collected for testing.

The result, however, showed that the Chinese tested negative to the virus.

Sources said the Chinese who boarded an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Nigeria, was coughing profusely on arrival at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.

The MMIA Manager, Mrs. Victoria Shinaba, who spoke before the result of the test on the Chinese was released, confirmed the incident, saying that "we are still expecting the results from Lagos State."

The commissioner said the state was already putting contingency plans in place in case of the outbreak of the virus in the state.

He said: "We presently have 100 isolation centres, but we have put plans in place to increase it to 1000. With time we will know whether to activate this or not. We are also preparing five general hospitals and our IDP camps as plan B. We hope no other case is recorded, but should there be, we are more than ready to handle outbreaks.

"The federal government has activated testing sites at every international airport, including that of Lagos. So as it stands now, we have two centres in Lagos where coronavirus tests can be done."

According to him, the state has been preparing for this day, and it has an extremely sophisticated laboratory with level three, and certified by international bodies to deal with an epidemic. "People criticise us that we are not prepared, but what they don't know is that we have been waiting for this day," he added.

On the Italian index case, he said three tests had so far been carried out on him, noting that the first result showed a baseline of the virus, while the second showed the virus has reduced.

"But the third result showed the virus has gone back to baseline.

"We will keep watching him because the virus fluctuates. Whenever the virus eventually leaves his system, we will be happy to release him. I am sure he will want to travel back to Italy immediately after been released.

"He has a mild to moderate case of the virus at the moment. His breathing is fine although he has slight cough. We know he is lonely at the moment because his ward has 14 beds and he is the only one there. We hope it remains so. We have reached out to his embassy. They have provided him with phone, internet, books, and Italian food," the commissioner added.

House to Suspend Plenary for Two Weeks over Epidemic

Also yesterday, the House of Representatives resolved to suspend plenary for 14 days over fear of Coronavirus and to enable lawmakers to sensitise their constituents on the outbreak.

The decision of the House followed the unanimous adoption of a motion of urgent public importance, entitled: 'The need for emergency response and tackling of deadly Coronavirus (COVlD-19) in Nigeria', moved by Hon Idem Unyime.

Supporting the motion, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu proposed an amendment, calling on the National Assembly to suspend plenary for two weeks.

Presenting his motion, Unyime noted that the federal government needs to move swiftly and intensify collaborations with health agencies to check the virus at this early stage of the outbreak.

He lamented that with the current situation of health facilities in Nigeria, the virus if not properly checked or curtailed, will easily be transmitted within the larger population and may lead to a wider catastrophe.

In his contribution, Hon. Nasir Ali Ahmed said it was worrisome that Nigeria as the most populated country in Africa, has only three isolation centres.

He made reference to the case of the Iranian vice president who contacted the disease and two of its cabinet members that died recently after contacting the disease, saying that more needs to be done to tackle it.

Also Hon. Dagomie Abiante said Nigeria should do more in its preparations to fight the virus.

Adopting the motion, the House directed the leadership of the National Assembly to set up an ad-hoc committee to interface with the executive, health agencies with a view to overcoming and eliminating the disease.

The House urged the federal government to release more emergency funds and create enabling environment and support for the Federal Ministry of Health and other health agencies and institutions in a bid to eliminate the virus.

The lawmakers also called for the immediate activation of all centres established and designated for the treatment and management of Ebola cases in the country for the management of suspected cases and victims of COVID-19.

Dangote Donates N200m to Fight Coronavirus

However, government's efforts in stopping the virus from becoming an epidemic got a boost yesterday as the Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF) pledged N200 million to the cause.

The ADF's intervention is considered so far the largest single donation by a corporate organisation in the country.

The Aliko Dangote Foundation had also committed about N1billion to the fight against the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Africa.

The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Aliko Dangote Foundation, Ms Zouera Youssoufou, who was represented by the Health and Nutrition Programme Officer, Mrs. Maryam Shehu-Buhari, at a donor coordinating meeting in Abuja yesterday, said the donation was part of the Foundation's cardinal objective.

She said the Dangote Foundation had earmarked N124 million to support facilities to help prevent, assess and respond to health events at point of entry to ensure national health security.

Youssoufou listed other areas the foundation is supporting to include surveillance and epidemiology where facilities worth N36 million will be provided to support government's efforts.

According to her, the ADF will also donate N48 million for case management training of health workers.

Speaking at the meeting facilitated by the World Bank, the bank's Country Director represented by the Operations Manager, Ms Kathleen Whimp, identified four thematic areas to tackling the spread of COVID 19. These are: regular communication with the public, contact tracing, training of volunteers and international co-operations.

Anambra Screens Chinese Citizens

To check the outbreak of Coronavirus, the Anambra State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Vincent Okpala, has said the state government has screened all Chinese citizens living in the state.

Okpala told journalists yesterday that all those screened tested negative to the virus and declared that the state is free of it.

"There is no case of Coronavirus in Anambra. We are on ground to respond to any eventuality. We are tackling Lassa fever and Coronavirus together. I want to re-assure you that we have checked out all the Chinese in the state and they are free from disease for now. From January to date, we have examined five people that entered the state from China and they are all free from the disease," he said.

The commissioner noted that his ministry was set to check contractors, businessmen and people coming in from affected countries in order to avoid having the disease in the state.

Bayelsa Targets Foreigners, Keeps Check on Brass LGA

Meanwhile, the Bayelsa State government yesterday said part of the preemptive measures it was taking to prevent the spread of the virus to the state was to identify and screen foreigners and to keep close watch on Brass Local Government Area where many foreigners work.

Briefing the state Governor, Senator Douye Diri, on steps being taken to safeguard the state from the virus, the Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Health, Dr. Apoku Nathaniel-Inodu, said dedicated phone lines had been opened for people to reach out to the ministry to report suspected cases of the virus.

He said the ministry was preparing an isolation centre at the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri to handle cases or suspected cases in the state.

The commissioner added that the state government is paying close attention to Brass LGA of the state.

Brass is the base of the Italian oil giant, Nigerian Agip Oil Company, which operates the Brass oil Terminal.

Responding, the governor said his administration would give priority to the health and safety of the people at all times.

He urged residents not to panic over the Coronavirus pandemic and expressed satisfaction with the efforts of the state health team toward containing the disease.

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