Twenty four hours after five persons tested positive to coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, four new cases were confirmed in Lagos yesterday, with the state government tracing no fewer than 1,300 persons.
Also, one of the daughters of President Muhammadu Buhari is currently in self-isolation, shortly after returning from the United Kingdom.
Ondo State also yesterday recorded a suspected case of the virus, with the state House of Assembly directing the executive arm of government to close all schools and ban gatherings at all high-density places
These came on a day the 36 state governors, under the aegis of Nigerian Governors' Forum, NGF, said they would work in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, to ensure functional testing and isolation centres for the disease are established in every state of the federation.
The governors also set up a committee to review the $57 oil benchmark, falling oil prices, among others.
This is even as some major religious denominations and groups, including the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Ansar-ud-Deen Society of Nigeria and the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, yesterday pledged to abide by the ban placed by Lagos and Ogun state governments on public gatherings.
Both governments had declared on Wednesday that they would not tolerate gatherings of more than 50 persons in a place, saying the measure is geared towards stemming the spread of the disease.
With the latest addition of four new cases in Lagos, the country now has 12 infected persons.
Addressing journalists yesterday in Lagos, Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, who also disclosed that the Italian Index case had tested negative to the virus for the first time, explained that a second test would also be conducted on him.
He said: "19 people were tested for COVID-19 yesterday (Wednesday) in Lagos and four out of them tested positive to the virus and had been isolated for treatment at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba area of Lagos."
He said the first of the four new cases who tested positive to the disease was a contact of the third case, the woman who returned from the UK some days ago and tested positive, adding that the second new case is a female who returned from France on March 14 aboard Turkish Airline's flight TK 1830.
The third case, he said, is a Nigerian male in his 50s who had not travelled anywhere, but tested positive to the disease.
Abayomi stated that the fourth new case was a Nigerian male who arrived the country on March 13 from Frankfurt, Germany on Lufthansa Airline's flight LH568.
He said more tests were still being conducted, adding that it was clear that "we have combination of imported cases and local transmission."
The commissioner appealed to those who were on the two flights to start self-isolation and call the emergency numbers if they had any symptoms of COVID-19.
He added that the Index case had tested negative but insisted that he would be put through another test to ascertain if the virus had cleared from his body.
Ondo gets first case
Ondo State has also reported a suspected case of the virus, prompting the House of Assembly to prevail on the state government to shut schools and ban all gatherings at high density places in the state.
High density gatherings, according to the lawmakers at an emergency plenary, include all religious centres.
The lawmakers had invited the Health Commissioner, Dr Wahab Adegbenro, to explain to the people of the state the case of the suspected coronavirus victim in the government hospital.
Adegbenro told the lawmakers that there was one person suspected to have contracted the virus in the state on Wednesday. According to him, the person's blood samples has been taken and the results would be out in three days.
The commissioner stated that issues of coronavirus was no longer news because of high spread of the virus in the world, noting that the state is worried because Ekiti recently recorded two cases of the decease.
He said: "Yesterday evening, the news came from the University of Medical Sciences, UNIMEDTH, that they had a suspect and the person has been placed under supervision.
"His blood sample has been taken and the results are being expected in two days time. We have started his contact tracing, but we must be very careful in Ondo State because of occurrence of the disease in Ekiti.
"We are appealing to FG to assist Ondo State because this virus can wipe out human race if not tackled. For now, there is no cure and it is airborne, causing difficulty in breathing."
The commissioner said the state government is proactive, adding that some funds had been approved for the disease control centre in Akure.
Similarly, one of the daughters of President Muhammadu Buhari is currently in self-isolation. Hajiya Aisha Buhari, wife of the President who disclosed this in a series of tweets, said although her daughter did not show any symptoms of the virus, she went into self-isolation after returning from the UK.
Mrs Buhari, who did not name the daughter in isolation, tweeted: "Good afternoon Nigerians, earlier today (yesterday) my daughter returned from the UK, being among the high-burden listed countries of COVID-19.
"Based on the advice of the Minister of Health, Presidential Task force on COVID-19, and that of NCDC, she is on self-isolation, not because she displayed any symptoms of the COVID-19.
"Please, I urge all parents to do the same if possible as prevention is better than cure. Similarly, I have shut down my office for two weeks with immediate effect, while essential staff can work from home as a result of some staff who recently returned from the UK .
"Let's keep following the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC, which encourages maintaining social distancing, high hygiene culture through regular washing of hands with soaps and sanitizers.
"Let's adopt preventive measures and ensure the safety of our families and that of the general public. We will overcome the COVID-19 pandemic if we all take the necessary precautions at the same time."
Govs on testing centres
In a similar development, governors of the 36 states of the federation rose from a meeting early yesterday in Abuja, stressing the need for testing and isolation centres to be established in every state to contain spread of coronavirus.
The governors, acting under the aegis of Nigerian Governors; Forum, NGF, also set up a committee to comprehensively review the trend of the ravaging disease on the economy.
The committee, chaired by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, has Edo, Jigawa, Kebbi, Ebonyi, Ogun and Nasarawa states' governors as members, and it is to advise state governments on the set of actions required to address challenges in economy.
They also drilled the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire for over one hour on the impact of the disease in Nigeria.
Reading a communique issued at the end of the meeting, chairman of the NGF and governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, said governors pledged to work with the Ministry of Health to set up functional test and isolation centres in every state in the country.
He said: "We, members of the Nigeria Governors' Forum, NGF, at our meeting held today (yesterday) at the NGF Secretariat Abuja, deliberated on several issues and resolved as follows: The Forum welcomes the govemor of Imo State, His Excellency Hope Uzodinma to his first NGF meeting since his resumption (assumption) as Govemor of Imo State.
"The Forum received an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from the Minister of Health, Dr. E. Osagie Ehanire. Goverors pledged to work with the Ministry of Health to set up functional test and isolation centres in every state in the country.
"After an extensive discussion of the impact of the COVID-l 9 pandemic and falling oil prices in the Nigerian economy and the revenues of states governments, the Forum constituted a sub-committee consisting of the govemors of Kaduna (Chair), Kebbi, Ebonyi, Ogun, Nasarawa, Edo and Jigawa."
RCCG, PFN comply with Lagos, Ogun directives
Also yesterday, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN and the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, endorsed the ban order placed by Lagos and Ogun states governments on public gathering in their domains.
Both governments had on Wednesday, banned the gathering of more than 50 persons in any place, including churches and mosques. National President of PFN, Rev. Felix Omobude, told Vanguard on telephone that the measure was a welcome development.
"If this government is taking measures for the benefit of the people, I am for it. The health of Nigerians is paramount to everyone of us and we must endeavour to be supportive of any move in that direction," Omobude stated.
In a similar development, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, also issued a new guideline for seamless Sunday worship in the affected two states.
In a memo titled "Slight alteration in the mode of service for parishes in Lagos and Ogun states" Assistant General Overseer (Admin & Personnel), Pastor Johnson Folorunsho Odesola, addressed to pastors-in-charge of regions and provinces in Lagos, dated March 18, 2020, the church outlined the changes.
According to the letter made available to Vanguard, Pastor Odesola said: "We refer to the directive from Lagos and Ogun state governments placing a ban on all religious meetings and gatherings of more than 50 worshipers in Lagos, as part of precautionary steps towards managing the further spread of the coronavirus disease.
"In line with this directive from the government, the mission authority has instructed as follows: Parishes that have an average attendance of 50 members or less can hold their services without any alteration or changes.
"Parishes that have average attendance above 50 members are directed to make use of their House Fellowship centres to run simultaneous services with the main church.
"Parishes that have the facility to run more than one service can also do so, under the strict directive that worshipers won't exceed 50 people per service.
"One supervising minister and an usher could be seconded to each centre for collation of necessary reports (attendance, New converts, New comers, etc)
"All centers are requested to connect to Dove Television to join the live broadcast from the General Overseer during the period."
Pastor Odesola informed the senior pastors that the arrangement would remain in operation for the next few weeks, based on the position of the government.
"You are, therefore, requested to convey the assurances of the continued prayer of the General Overseer to members, while also encouraging them not to panic in the face of ongoing crisis because God promised us victory over every battle at the start of this year," he added.
Similarly, Ansar-ud-Deen Society of Nigeria has suspended mosque activities involving more than 50 people.
"The National Executive Council, The Trustees and the National Council of Missioners, with heavy hearts and a deep sense of responsibility, hereby announce the suspension of all mosque activities, particularly weekly Asalatu, Jum'ah prayers and any gathering of up to fifty people.
"The suspension of activities shall take effect immediately until further notice. This decision was informed by the menacing spread of the novel coronavirus(COVID-19) and Fatwa by World Islamic bodies taking cognisance of the Islamic principles of 'preservation of life', 'prevention of harm', and 'proactive response to impending danger'.
"The society shall abide by government's recommendations and update members and mosque users of any change in the suspension decision. We acknowledge that many of our members and mosque users might find this unprecedented decision very uncomfortable.
"We should please be reassured that this is for the good of the community and it is in compliance with the Islamic response to epidemic pandemic," spokesman of the group, Muhammed Hassan, said.
In a similar vein, National Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, said any person with the symptoms of coronavirus should not be allowed inside the mosque.
Briefing journalists in Abuja yesterday, Deputy Secretary-General of NSCIA, Professor Salisu Shehu, said measures need to be taken to stop the spread of the virus. He advised Muslims to adhere to the advice of authorities on the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus.
He, therefore, called on Imans and other Islamic leaders to ensure that no person with symptoms of coronavirus or suspected cases of the virus was allowed into mosques.
Anglican Church makes modifications to its mode of worship
In its reaction, the Lagos West Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) decided to make some modifications to its mode of worship.
In a memo by The Ven. Abiade Adeniji, the Administration Assistant. to the Bishop on behalf of the diocesan, the church said: "The relationship between the State and the Church must be maintained, at all times.
"In view of the above, I have been directed by the lord Bishop, to inform you of the need for all priests in the Diocese, to adhere strictly to the following, with immediate effect: "Parishes must provide water and soap for the washing of hands; sanitizer should be provided, and all members should be encouraged to maintain high standard of personal hygiene.
"One hour services must be conducted for members, not exceeding 50 in multiple sanctuary/chapel hall.
"Individual cups should be encouraged for use during Holy Communion Services.; individuals should clap their hands (instead of hand shaking or hugging) during the time for Peace at Holy Communion Services.
"Compliance with the above listed is the wisest thing to do at a time like this. The steps are not to hinder any faithful from worshipping the Almighty God. May our cry for mercy be heard by Him in Jesus name. Yours in His service."
Methodist Church holds services with increased precautions
Reacting to the ban, *Prelate of The Methodist Church, His Eminence Samuel Emeka Kanu Uche, acknowledged that the coronavirus was not only a threat to the existence of humanity but also a brutal challenge to the nation's corporate existence.
"As a leader of the people called Methodists in Nigeria, I, therefore, direct as follows: That services in all our churches will continue unrestricted as sanitisers shall be provided at the entrance of our churches.
"That all our local churches must be fumigated with immediate effect and preferably on a regular basis. That the use of the Chalice is suspended for the next four weeks. Single cups should be used for the administration of the sacrament of Holy Communion and sterilized after use.
"That all conveniences, especially toilets should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at least two times on a daily basis."
Senate closes gallery
Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday announced a partial closure of its gallery and suspension of public hearing from next Tuesday, following the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and society.
Disclosing this after a closed door session of senators, President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, said it was the decision of the Senate to suspend public hearings and restrict access to its chamber over growing concerns of COVID-19 spread in the country.
According to him, there will no longer be excursion to the Senate by students and other persons.
Lawan said: "The Senate resolves to suspend all public hearings till further notice as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19).
"In addition, the Senate gallery will remain closed to the public till further notice, including excursions from schools and organisations from Tuesday, March 24, 2020," Lawan said.
The Senate also asked senators who just returned from foreign trip to subject themselves to compulsory medical test to ascertain whether they had been infected with the deadly coronavirus.
COVID-19: Nigeria failing on testing
Federal and state authorities in Nigeria have come under fire in recent times for not ensuring enough test centres are available and widely distributed across the six geopolitical zones of the country.
With a total of 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19, all the tests are being carried out at the five available test centers in the country.
The centers are the NCDC National Reference Laboratory, Abuja, FCT, Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Edo state, the Virology laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH; the Nigeria Institute for Medical Research, NIMR, and the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Disease, Ede, in Osun state.
There are worries that with the number of people screened so far, Nigeria may not be detecting more cases because it may be carrying out fewer tests than required.
Testing in Nigeria has been an issue. There are no test centres in the South South, North West and North East zones of the country. All the available test centres are concentrated in the South West, North Central and South South zones.
"Nigeria is failing in testing," said Dr Casmir Ifeanyi, a Public Health Consultant and Medical Scientist/researcher. Ifeanyi, who is National PRO of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, AMLSN, called for adoption of global standards.
"In the passing years, I have made appeals to the Governor of Enugu State, to set up a public health reference laboratory in his state. I have led a team to the Governor and he sent the Deputy Governor to interface with us. These were the issues we raised with him, but two or three years down the line, he has not done anything about it. The state keeps having a record of Lassa fever, now it has a record of coronavirus.
"The same thing is applicable to Ebonyi state which is also endemic for Lassa fever. We also made overtures to the Governor of the state directly and through the media that a reference laboratory be put in place because these states are vulnerable.
"The same thing applies to other states in the South West, particularly Ondo State that is at the border with Edo State that is also endemic for Lassa fever."
"The states in the South East are not ready for COVID-19 and nothing can be further than that. They are ill-prepared. The highest hospital in Enugu is the Federal University Teaching Hospital and the state- owned Enugu Sate Teaching Hospital. If you take a tour of the hospital, you will not in anyway pass it for a Teaching Hospital. I don't know what the state government is doing to relocate that hospital to a proper place where it can function as a teaching hospital. I also think that the capacities of the laboratories in the two hospitals I have mentioned is nothing to write home about."
Ifeanyi said strengthening and expansion of COVID-19 laboratory diagnostic capacity should be uppermost as part of the response and preparedness measures put in place by the Federal government against the pandemic in Nigeria.
"In this particular time that we are bedevilled with this outbreak, what we need to do is to develop an emergency crack medical laboratory workforce. Again, as a professional group in the coming week, we shall be assembling to train service leaders from the rank of Director to Assistant Directors in Teaching Hospitals and Federal Medical Centres on what they have to do and know at this point in time.
"We need government to toe that kind of part. We need the NCDC to go beyond training their staff to begin to engage medical lab practitioners and medical laboratory scientists in Teaching Hospitals and FMCs and train them on how to carry out work now in the lab and how to carry out diagnosis of this disease."