Abuja, Lagos and Bauchi — With a steady rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, in which Lagos State is the epicentre, the state government yesterday unfolded plans to begin a house-to-house search to identify those suspected of being infected with the virus.
The state Ministry of Health said in a statement that the exercise, tagged the 'Community Active Case Search,' which will be phased, will last for two weeks in the first lap, and would cover all the 20 local government areas in the state.
Lagos has 158 of the 288 confirmed cases in the country. Yesterday, data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) showed that there were 14 new cases of COVID-19 in the country with 13 coming from Lagos.
However, seven more COVID-19 patients were discharged from the Mainland Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, rallying the number of treated and virus-free patients in the state to 39.
But 51 of the infected have been discharged and seven deaths recorded nationwide.
And as the controversy over the visit of the Chinese medical team to Nigeria raged on yesterday, the NCDC dismissed claims by critics of the team's mission to Nigeria that the medical supplies they brought from China were contaminated with the virus and could aggravate the pandemic in the country, if used.
The federal government had taken possession of the $1.3 million worth of medical equipment and consumables from a group of Chinese companies in Nigeria as part of their contributions towards fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been on the upswing since the index case happened on February 27.
The companies also sponsored a Chinese medical team that arrived in Abuja on Wednesday to install the equipment and train local medical personnel on how to operate it.
But the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) is opposed to the presence of the team and the alleged moves by doctors among them to treat patients in Nigeria, saying it undermines Nigeria's sovereignty.
The Federal Ministry of Health has, however, given an assurance that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) would ensure the quality of all the medical supplies from China.
NAFDAC has also granted conditional emergency use of antibody and antigen test kits on COVID-19 patients in Nigeria.
The Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, who had tested positive for the virus has, however, fully recovered and now tested negative
Giving details on the planned house-to-house search, the statement quoted the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, as saying at a press conference that officials carrying out the tracing of suspected COVID-19 patients would adorn the COVID-19 outbreak response tags and letters from their local government for easy identification.
He said: "In the coming days, some of our health workers will be moving around in pairs to administer an electronic questionnaire at homes and healthcare facilities to make inquiries about symptoms of cough, cold and fever.
"This is in a bid to intensify our search for possible cases of COVID-19 in different communities across the state. I implore you to give them your maximum support by providing accurate information that would help in containing this pandemic quickly."
On the allegations that some of the Chinese medical materials are contaminated with the virus, NCDC Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, in an exclusive interview with THISDAY yesterday, faulted the claim, saying they were in good condition.
There has been outrage over the donations, as some Nigerians believed Europe's COVID-19 cases escalated after countries in the region received medical materials from China.
The critics warned that Nigeria's number of cases may surge if the medical supplies are allowed into the country.
But Ihekweazu said: "There is no evidence that the kits received in Nigeria are contaminated with the virus that causes COVID-19. These medical supplies are very effective when safely used by health workers."
NAFDAC to Ensure Quality of Medical Supplies
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, also vouched for the quality of the medical supplies from China.
Ehanire said in a statement that the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) would ensure the quality of the medical supplies from China.
"The Federal Ministry of Health, on behalf of the federal government appreciates this gesture from the Chinese community in Nigeria, recognising that collaboration, knowledge sharing, and expert insight are critical in the fight against coronavirus.
"We assure that the federal government, through the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), will ensure the quality of all the medical supplies that were brought into the country," he said.
The minister added that following global best practices and in line with the ministry of health's advisory, the 15 medical experts who arrived in Nigeria on Wednesday from China have gone into isolation for 14 days and that they will be tested for the virus.
"It is important to emphasise that the guests are not here to treat patients but to conduct capacity building based on their experience. All available resources shall be deployed to support adequate engagement of Nigerian medical experts towards curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the country," he added.
NAFDAC Authorises for Use of Antibody Test Kits on Patients
NAFDAC has, however, granted conditional emergency use of antibody and antigen test kit on COVID-19 patients in Nigeria.
In a statement made available to THISDAY yesterday, the Director-General, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said the antibody test kits should be used in COVID-19 confirmed individuals at designated centres in other to ascertain whether or not they can be infected again by the virus.
Antibodies are blood proteins produced in response to and countering specific antigens like viruses and bacteria.
She said: "The antigen tests kits, on the other hand, can detect the COVID-19 antigen in patients with or without symptoms, and the results will either show positive or negative.
"There has been a global effort by innovative diagnostic companies to develop test kits to aid in the detection of COVID-19 in patients to guide the management of the disease."
She explained that the agency has recently received many requests for emergency use authorisation for some of such diagnostic test kits to support the national response and ensure expanded testing capabilities.
Lagos Discharges Seven COVID-19 Patients
The Lagos State Government yesterday said it discharged seven more patients from the Mainland Hospital, an infectious disease facility in Yaba area of the state.
The Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in a tweet on his verified Twitter handle @jidesanwoolu, said: "Good people of Lagos, I bring you awesome news from IDH, Yaba, which is as a testament to our resolve to overcome the lethal #COVID19 pandemic ravaging the world.
"Today, we discharged seven more patients who have fully recovered and tested negative twice consecutively for #COVID19.
"This brings to 39 the number of discharged patients in Lagos.
"The patients include one female and six males; three of the discharged male patients are foreign nationals -- two Ukrainians and one Italian."
14 New Cases Raise Tally to 288
The NCDC yesterday reported 14 new cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria with 13 of them found in Lagos State and the remaining one in Delta State.
The agency, in a breakdown on its official Twitter account, said Nigeria now has 288 confirmed cases while 51 people have been discharged and seven deaths recorded.
Lagos State still tops the epidemic chart with 158 cases followed by the FCT- 54; Osun- 20; Edo-12; Oyo- 11; Bauchi- 6; Akwa Ibom- 5; Ogun- 4; Kaduna- 5; Enugu- 2; Ekiti- 2; Rivers-2; Kwara- 2; Delta- 2; Benue- 1; Ondo- 1 and Katsina-1.
Bauchi Gov Recovers from Pandemic
The Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, has also fully recovered from COVID-19.
The governor, while receiving the result of his second test which turned out negative, thanked the NCDC, the Bauchi COVID-19 Task Force and all religious leaders for their support through his time in isolation.
According to a press statement issued yesterday by Mr. Lawal Muazu Bauchi, the governor's Special Assistant on New Media, "The governor also thanked his cabinet as well as residents and indigenes of the state for remaining steadfast and relentless all through the period."
NMA Rejects Move by Chinese Doctors to Treat Patients
NMA yesterday reiterated its opposition to the presence of the Chinese medical team in Nigeria and rejected alleged moves by them to treat patients in Nigeria.
In a statement issued yesterday by NMA President, Dr. Francis Faduyile, and the Secretary-General, Dr. Olumuyiwa Odusote, the association said there was a contradiction in the statements of the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, and the Managing Director of the Chinese donor firm on the real mission of the Chinese medical personnel in the country.
NMA noted that while the minister had said the experts were coming to assist in setting up test laboratories, the Chinese firm said the medical personnel would be treating Chinese workers in their facilities.
NMA said: "We are not against the receipt of donor support and equipment. We rather are against pulling the wool over our eyes going by the recent statement issued by the Managing Director of the Chinese donor firm operating in Nigeria that the medical personnel will be treating Chinese workers in their facilities.
"We are taken aback at this statement as this is at variance with the information supplied by the honourable Minister of Health.
"We wish also to ask when medical expatriates started coming to sovereign states to treat her nationals. What happens to the Nigerians working in those facilities?"
The association said it would continue to monitor the actions of the Chinese personnel.
African Countries Heading for Peak of Pandemic, Says WHO
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the alarm that some African countries could see a peak in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks, stressing that testing should be urgently increased in the region.
"During the last four days we can see that the numbers have already doubled," the WHO's Africa Programme Manager for Emergency Response, Mr. Michel Yao, told a media teleconference yesterday.
"If the trend continues and also learning from what happened in China and in Europe, some countries may face a huge peak very soon," he said, adding it could arrive in the coming weeks.
He did not name the countries affected.
WHO's Africa Head, Matshidiso Moeti, said there is an "urgent need" to expand testing capacity beyond capital cities in Africa, as the virus spreads through countries.
"Without help and action now, poor countries and vulnerable communities could suffer massive devastation," WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, told diplomats in Geneva.
"The infection numbers in Africa are relatively small now, but they are growing fast," he said.
He noted the havoc wrought even in wealthy nations in the 100 days since China first informed the WHO of cases of "pneumonia of unknown cause" in the city of Wuhan.
Govs to Use Telecommunications Facilities to Monitor Cases
At the end of its fourth teleconference meeting, the 36 state governors have agreed to use the facilities of telecommunications in the country to monitor the rate of transmission of the pandemic in the country.
The governors also agreed that they will use the telecommunications facilities to identify the vulnerable persons in the states of the federation.
According to the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) who is also Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the decision was reached after the governors were briefed by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami
He said in a communique of the meeting that the governors received an update from Pantami, on the response of his ministry to the COVID-19 pandemic, including support to state governments to help them identify vulnerable persons through a data mining study coordinated by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) with the support of telecommunications providers in the country.
The communique of the meeting said that the forum commended the minister for taking a functional role in the COVID-19 response and assured him of their resolve to use all relevant data available to target palliatives to the most vulnerable persons in the most effective and efficient manner.
The governors said they are taking necessary measures to strengthen operations in their Emergency Communication Centres (ECCs) to improve the communication response between distressed citizens and Emergency Response Agencies (ERAs) including the State Emergency Agency, ambulances, police, Fire Service and the Federal Road Safety Corps.
The communique said that the operations will be resident in the ECCs to process distress calls and contact relevant ERAs.
Also, the governors said it received an update from Chief Transformation Officer, MTN Nigeria, Mr. Olubayo Adekanmi, on the ongoing work with the NGF Secretariat.
The work is to estimate the vulnerability profile of all states based on their populations, age risk, international travel profile, population density and state contiguity, epidemiological metrics, and spending patterns that they resolved to adopt the new data to strengthen the distribution of palliatives put in place and support from various organisations and persons.
Americans evacuated from Nigeria Now 997
Following the unprecedented challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Government has evacuated a total of 997 Americans out of Nigeria.
The Americans were evacuated through three US Consulate-organised chartered flights operated by Delta Air Lines and Ethiopian Airlines with 850 Americans airlifted from the Lagos, while 147 were airlifted from Abuja between April 4 and April 8.
Announcing this yesterday, the United States Consul General in Nigeria, Ms. Claire Pierangelo, said in times of emergency, the US Department of State has no greater priority than the safety and security of its citizens overseas.
She said: "This has been three weeks in the making. We had more than 50 people working on this on a daily basis to make sure that we can find the Americans, get the planes, secure flight clearances for the planes to land here and also ensure the safe passage of the Americans traveling to the airport since the city is on lockdown. It was an enormous effort and I am incredibly proud of my team. We appreciate all the help from our Nigerian partners. We couldn't have done this without them.
"The US Mission remains committed to working closely with Nigeria and the various health authorities to keep everyone healthy and safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic."
She said the US government has pledged more than $7 million in health and humanitarian funding to Nigeria in response to the pandemic, adding that the funds will go toward risk communication, water and sanitation activities, infection prevention, and coordination.
"This assistance joins more than $5.2 billion in health assistance and more than $8.1 billion in total assistance for Nigeria over the past 20 years.
"The US is providing nearly $274 million to help dozens of countries to combat the COVID-19, furthering America's commitment to humanitarian assistance and global health."