The federal government said yesterday that Nigeria has only a short window of time to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country as it sustains the search for 4,370 people to check their status because of their direct or indirect exposure to the novel COVID-19.
Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said yesterday that the people had contact with suspected cases but could not be traced to any address. He therefore urged them to immediately report to the relevant authorities.
But experts spoken to yesterday said the government should have acted fast by thoroughly checking the status of all the people that came to Nigeria either by air or other means before allowing them to go to their destinations.
What Lai Mohammed said
Addressing journalists in Abuja yesterday, Lai Mohammed said Nigeria must stop the outbreak immediately as the virus was on the verge of reaching the level of community spread.
He, however, said the government was determined to be more aggressive in enforcing the measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus.
Some of the measures include social distancing, contact tracing, testing, isolation of suspected cases, and ensuring that messaging gets down to the grassroots.
Others are stopping international flights into the country, closure of markets and the prohibition of large congregations.
He said: "I don't intend to sound apocalyptic. But the truth is that time is running out. If we don't urgently and more aggressively enforce the measures I have just listed, we have a short window within which to stop this pandemic or face an explosion in terms of the cases. We cannot afford to be complacent."
The minister lamented that the government was not getting the kind of cooperation that "this moment deserves" from Nigerians.
According to him, "Many are busy engaging in meaningless criticisms instead of complying with the stipulated directives to keep people safe. Some Nigerians, who flew into the country from overseas filed wrong addresses and phone numbers in their forms, making it difficult to trace them.
"Some Nigerians defied orders to stay away from large gatherings while some religious leaders wilfully flouted the directives to ensure social distancing. The government is doing its best but we need the citizens to do their best too. We have now gone past the stage of persuasion. It's time for strong enforcement," Mohammed said.
FG to ban inter-state travel
The minister said the federal government was also considering tougher measures to stop the exportation of the disease to states that did not have it.
The proposed measures, according to him, include stopping inter-state/inter-town travels except for essential services, closing all motor parks and inter-state rail stations, and using firefighting and other adaptable vehicles and personnel to fumigate cities and towns.
He noted that the federal government had received 100,000 face masks, 1,000 personal protective equipment and 20,000 test kits donated by the Jack Ma Foundation in China.
He also disclosed that the government was taking measures to increase the number of bed spaces for isolation of suspects.
Buhari not on ventilator
Lai Mohammed also yesterday debunked the rumour that President Muhammadu Buhari was coughing and on ventilator, saying "it is all fake news."
He said there were five laboratories as well as six testing centres for coronavirus.
The minister also said he could not give information on the state of health of the president's Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, who tested positive for the virus.
Confirmed cases hit 65
The NCDC last night confirmed 14 new cases of COVID-19. The centre said two were confirmed in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and 12 in Lagos State.
"Of the 14, six were detected on a vessel, three are returning travellers into Nigeria and one is a close contact of a confirmed case," he said.
Nigeria now has 65 confirmed cases, three cases have been discharged and one death recorded so far.
It was reported that six out of the initial 30 active cases of COVID-19 in Lagos State have recovered and will be discharged.
A report by Quartz Africa Weekly published on March 24 titled 'The troubling data point behind Nigeria's low number of coronavirus cases,' said the NCDC only tested 152 as of March 22.
"That's compared with South Africa which has conducted over 15,500 tests so far despite recording its index case a week later than Nigeria.
"For its part, the NCDC has adopted a strategy of limiting tests to only people already showing symptoms of the disease or have come in contact with confirmed cases. It is similar to approaches adopted in the United States and the United Kingdom but in comparison to those countries, Nigeria's test numbers are far lower. The UK had tested over 78,000 people as of Mar. 22.
"The slow pace of Nigeria's tests is largely down to a lack of capacity. While it can conduct tests locally, Nigeria lacks the manpower or capacity to do so on a very large scale," the report said.