Nigeria: Govt Considers Compulsory Use of Masks As COVID-19 Cases Rise to 139

(file photo).
1 April 2020

The federal government is considering compulsory use of face masks by all Nigerians to stop the spread of COVID-19, whose cases rose by eight yesterday to hit 139.

It's also reviewing the protocols for implementing the 14-day lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

To step up the treatment of the infected, the government has recalled retired health workers who are now being trained to support the overall preparedness and treatment regimen.

Other measures to combat the pandemic include opening more testing centres so that Nigeria would be able to test 1,500 people daily in a bid to fast-track the detection rate.

Data from the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control (NCDC) showed that the country has so far tested over 2,000 people since the outbreak of the pandemic on February 27.

The federal government is also considering a relief package, targeted at cushioning 11 million people from the difficulties occasioned by COVID-19.

Speaking yesterday in Abuja at a press briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, NCDC Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the agency was considering compulsory use of face masks to mitigate against the spread of the virus.

Ihekweazu noted that though the World Health Organisation (WHO) had recommended that face mask should only be used by health workers, NCDC might recommend a national strategy around its use for the public to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

He said the centre was considering that approach in the light of new emerging evidence, adding that for the mask to be effective on a population basis, they might recommend its use for everyone.

"This is a strategy we need to think about before we implement it. Before we implement a national strategy around mask wearing, we have to be sure we can provide it or at least enable access to it. We will allow for the risk assessment and as the evidence comes together, we will make a decision based on the evidence and ability to provide every Nigerian with access to mask," he said.

NCDC Targets 1,500 per day Testing Capacity

Ihekweazu also said NCDC was set to increase its capacity to test for the virus to 1,500 per day.

"Last week, we had the capacity to test 500 per day, by the end of this week we will be at 1,000 a day.

"By next week we are hoping to get to 1,500 a day," he said.

Ihekweazu, however, said Nigerians should reduce the demand side of the testing to those who really needed it.

He noted that the more the people force themselves into being tested, the less NCDC would have the capacity to test those who really need the testing.

Ihekweazu added that those that really need testing would, if not detected on time, be transmitting it into the community and more people would get infected.

According to him, by testing those that do not need it, people are blocking the system and there's a price to pay.

Eight More Test Positive for COVID-19

NCDC also announced eight more cases of COVID-19 in the country, raising the total count to 139.

Giving a breakdown of the eight fresh incidences, NCDC said three were from the FCT; three from Osun, and one each from Lagos and Ogun States.

It said of the 139 cases, 128 were still active and under management, nine had been discharged, and two had died.

So far, Lagos has recorded 82 cases; FCT 28; Oyo eight; Osun five; Ogun four; Kaduna three; Edo, Enugu and Bauchi have two each, while Ekiti, Rivers and Benue have one each.

FG Reviews Lockdown Protocol for Lagos, Ogun, FCT

At the press conference in Abuja, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, also unveiled plans by the federal government to review the protocols for implementing the 14-day lockdown in the FCT as well as Lagos and Ogun states.

He explained that his team had met with the service chiefs for the review.

Mustapha said: "The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has met with the security chiefs to smoothen rough edges of implementation within the first day of implementation and we are working on issuing an appropriate restriction protocol and exemption guidelines, which will guide the subsequent days of restrictions.

"Initial feedback is that there is substantial compliance, however, there are violations of those restrictions by citizens that we desire to protect. Let me emphasise that the decision to lock down is to prevent community spread, which might be dangerous to manage.

"It can only be done by Nigerians and for Nigerians. So, we use this medium to implore our people and plead with them to please respect and honour restrictions that have been imposed for the good of our people and nation."

Mustapha added that COVID-19 has not only come to affect the health of Nigerians, but also the nation's wealth.

The SGF said even though President Muhammed Buhari had imposed a 14-day lock on the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states as one of the measures to prevent the spread of the virus, some of the states had not complied fully with the restriction order.

He warned that it was not in the character of the federal government to pick up people up and throw them behind bars as in other climes.

He stated that Nigerians owed it as a responsibility to themselves to ensure they do not allow the virus to come into their communities and ravage the country.

FG Recalls Retired Health Workers

The Federal Ministry of Health has said it would recall some of its retired staff back to duty to help beef up the human resource base needed to tackle the pandemic.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said at the press conference that additional measures were being taken to intensify contact tracing to support prompt case detection and isolation and treatment in order to reduce the spread of the infection.

He said the ministry was working closely with states, adding that members of the presidential task force would be holding a meeting with state commissioners of health to review the response activities to be able to protect the health of Nigerians.

As part of anticipatory measures aimed at boosting the core of medical workers that could attend to COVID-19 patients in the event of widespread outbreak, Ehanire said the ministry had put all its retired staff, particularly those that served at NCDC, on recall notice.

The minister said the presidential task force would meet later yesterday to review activities and measures to protect the health and well-being of Nigerians.

Ehanire said: "NCDC has engaged hundreds of ad-hoc staff to support call centres, contact tracing and laboratory work. Happily, many retired staff of the NCDC and also of the Ministry of Health, have reported for duty. Training is ongoing for the medical personnel to support overall preparedness and treatment.

"We are preparing about 1,000 beds in Abuja, to be used immediately as isolation centres if the need arises. The capacity to increase bed space is present. Resources for the procurement of required commodities have been provided.

"More testing sites have been opened in Ibadan and Abakaliki, while existing laboratories are being optimised in their performance. With new additions to the case definition, persons with fever and either cough or difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath in the areas of high COVID-19 prevalence can be tested for the disease.

"More laboratories will join the network of molecular diagnostic laboratories for COVID-19 in Kaduna, Kano, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt and Sokoto.

"Within the next two or three weeks, the over 300 Gene expert machines that are used for tuberculosis diagnosis will be converted to be used for COVID-19 detection."

FG to Reach 11m Nigerians with Palliatives

Also speaking at the press conference, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Farouk, said the federal government would be reaching more than 11 million Nigerians with palliatives to cushion the effects of the measures set to fight the pandemic.

Farouk, while responding to questions, added that internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North-east had already received two months' rations of relief materials.

She said the government already had a social-register with details of those considered as the vulnerable in the society in 35 states of the federation, adding that these people belong to around 2.6 million households across the country.

NSA to Clear Security Flights into Nigeria

The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has said all security flights into the country must pass through the National Security Adviser (NSA) before such flights could be given special permission to land in the light of the closure of all the country's international airports.

Sirika also stated that protocol for the landing of all diplomatic flights must also go through the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

House Donates Two months' Salary to Combat COVID-19

Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, yesterday conveyed the decision by the 360 members of the House to donate their two months' salary to the fight against the pandemic.

Gbajabiamila, in a video message to Nigerians, said the donation would be independent of the contributions by individual lawmakers to alleviate the hardship that their constituents face at this time of national emergency.

He said the donation would be transferred directly to the National Relief Fund account.

Gbajabiamila said: "We have in the House of Representatives jointly committed to contributing one hundred per cent (100 per cent) of our salaries for the next two months to the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria. Our contribution will support provisions for the welfare of frontline medical professionals and health workers, and other interventions to provide for the well being of all Nigerians through these trying times.

"Accordingly, I have directed the Clerk of the National Assembly to see to it that all members' salaries are transferred to the National Relief Fund for this month and the next. This is independent of ongoing individual efforts by members to alleviate the suffering brought on by this virus and to improve the living conditions of citizens in their various constituencies."

He added that the House would exercise its oversight power to ensure faithful administration of all emergency funds and contributions made so far to ensure they serve the purpose for which they were intended.

Ekiti Discharges Index Case

Meanwhile, the only patient with positive case of virus in Ekiti State has been discharged.

The patient, who has been receiving treatment at Ekiti State Infection Disease Control Centre in Oba Adejuyigbe General Hospital Ado-Ekiti, was discharged yesterday, having been treated of the disease.

The index case was a driver who brought a 27-year-old American to the state few weeks ago and eventually tested positive for the virus.

The patient, according to Ekiti State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Mojisola Yaya-Kolade, was full of joy for escaping death, saying the state government also demonstrated immense concerns for him throughout the period he was quarantined at the centre.

"I appreciate the state government, the medical team and entire Ekiti people for standing by me at my trying moment," the patient was quoted to have said.

Yaya-Kolade added that the index case was given best treatment and was confirmed free of the virus before being discharged.

"We are happy to inform Nigerians, most especially the Ekiti residents, that the index case in the state has been discharged today. He has been treated of the deadly Coronavirus," she noted.

Stop Stigmatising COVID-19 Patients, Says Minister

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has urged Nigerians to stop stigmatising people that tested positive for the virus.

The minister made the appeal yesterday on a Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) programme, "Good Morning Nigeria" monitored by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

"The challenge we have today in Nigeria is that of people trying to stigmatise those who have Coronavirus.

"This is responsible for why many people are not coming out for test, even when they have contact with confirmed cases or have recent travel history.

"They did not come out for testing because they are afraid of the stigmatisation if they turn out to test positive for the virus," he said.

The minister called on the media to limit report of positive cases for the virus by not mentioning names except when such persons come out to announce their status.

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