The federal government yesterday apologised for the lapses and the violation of COVID-19 safety principles and protocols that occurred during Saturday's burial of the Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, in Abuja.
It also cautioned Nigerians against undue optimism over when the COVID-19 pandemic would end, assuring them, however, that it was striving to overcome the virus, which cases rose to 665 yesterday with 188 patients discharged, while 22 persons dead.
The federal government said as part of the renewed efforts to combat the pandemic, it had developed a new action plan to tackle the spread of the virus, adding that it would evacuate Nigerians living abroad by next week.
Besides, the federal and state governments, yesterday gave updates in their efforts at combating the virus with Edo and Ondo states announcing the discharge of their index cases, while Lagos State said from next week it would make the wearing of face masks compulsory in the public.
Meanwhile, no fewer than eight private hospitals have suspended operations in Lagos for two weeks apparently to allow for the recertification of their facilities after treating COVID-19 patients, in some cases unknowingly.
At a press conference yesterday in Abuja, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, and the National Coordinator on COVID- 19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, apologised on behalf of the federal government to Nigerians over the lapses, at Kyari's burial.
Mustapha listed some of the violations, which PTF had regrettably observed to include, failure to follow the guidance provided on mass gatherings, social distancing, personal hygiene and restriction of movements.
"PTF recognises, regrettably, the unintentional violation of the principles and protocols that form the core of our messaging to Nigerians at the funeral of the late Chief of Staff.
"These principles for emphasis include the guidance provided on mass gatherings; social distancing; personal hygiene and restriction of movements.
"Lessons have been learnt and appropriate measures have been taken to close all gaps. We assure all Nigerians of their safety and the determination of PTF to combat the pandemic," he stated.
Mustapha added that the development had renewed the resolve of the task force to remain focused on the response to COVID-19 in honour of the late chief of staff and other deceased patients.
On the call that all members of the task force that attended the funeral should self-quarantine, SGF said: "I want to assure Nigerians that we are responsible people with family members. We have children, spouses and have friends like you. We won't do anything as a PTF to put you at risk."
FG Insists Corpses of COVID-19 Victims Not Infectious
Aliyu also apologised to the public for the blunders at Kyari's funeral, which had put the FCT residents at the risk of the contagion.
He said lessons had been learnt from the experience.
Aliyu said the burial ground had been decontaminated while the protective equipment of one of the undertakers that was dumped at the site had also been decontaminated and discarded according to NCDC guidelines.
According to him, contrary to allegations in the social media, Kyari's corpse was properly prepared for burial according to NCDC guidelines.
He doused the fear of the public on COVID-19, saying the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines stated that except in cases of a virus arising from fever and cholera, bodies of victims are generally not infectious.
"To date, there is no evidence of persons having become infected from exposure to the body of a person who could have died from COVID-19. We will like to assure the public that we will continue to follow the guidelines and protocols we have produced. We will also like to assure the public that the task force takes the presidential mandate seriously and is committed to executing it to the letter. We want the public to continue to hold us accountable for our actions," Aliyu added.
End of Pandemic Still Far, Says FG
Mustapha, however, added that the spread of the virus was far from over in Nigeria, saying the increase in the number of COVID-19 patients was worrisome.
He appealed to Nigerians to comply with the lockdown directives, saying the federal government was determined to "flatten the curve."
"Given the increase in the number of confirmed cases in the last week, PTF remains conscious of the fact that we are far from the end of this outbreak in Nigeria. We, therefore, must focus even more vigorously on our strategy of increasing testing, isolating confirmed cases, following up with contacts of cases and managing confirmed cases to recovery.
"The significant increase in the number of cases and distribution across states underscore the importance of remaining focused as citizens and as a nation because of the enormity of the challenges ahead," he said.
FG Develops Draft for New Action Plan
At the press conference, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, unfolded plans by the federal government to develop a new national plan that helps coordinate all efforts targeted at eradicating the pandemic.
Also, in view of the rising number of the cases, which has assumed the form of community transmission, he urged states to work towards providing at least 300-bed isolation and treatment centres for patients.
The minister explained that his ministry and PTF were currently fine-tuning the draft copy of the action plan.
"The worrying increase in the frequency and numbers of new persons infected with COVID-19 is attributable to this new strategy of grassroots testing in conjunction with community transmission. A new national action plan is under development to adjust and address this development," he added.
COVID-19 Cases Rise by 38 to 665, Spreads to Gombe, Abia, Sokoto
Meanwhile, the number of cases of the pandemic rose by 38 yesterday to 665, with the scourge spreading to Gombe, Abia and Sokoto states.
According to NCDC, "As at 11.10 p.m on April 20, there are 665 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Nigeria. One hundred and eighty-eight were discharged while 22 died.
"Out of the 38 cases, Kano State recorded 23; Gombe, five; Kaduna, three; Borno, two; Abia, two; FCT, one; Sokoto, one; and Ekiti, one case."
FG to Begin Evacuation of Nigerians abroad Next Week
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, in his briefing said the evacuation of Nigerians stranded in countries with high COVID-19 cases would begin next week.
He stated that an agreement had been signed with the two airlines contacted to evacuate them.
Eight Private Hospitals Suspend Operations after Exposure
At least eight hospitals in Lagos State have suspended operations and commenced decontamination following exposure to persons positive for COVID-19.
The hospitals said: "The safety of their staff and patients is of paramount importance to them. As such, they are complying with the directive of the Health Facility Monitoring and Accreditation Agency (HEFAMAA) to suspend their services for two weeks."
The Lagos State government had, however, said on Monday that two of the hospitals were accredited to treat COVID-19 cases.
Edo, Ondo Discharge Index Cases
Edo and Ondo states have discharged their two index cases after they had a full recovery and tested negative for the virus.
Edo State Government yesterday in Benin announced the discharge of the seventh person found to be suffering from coronavirus.
The Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, in a statement, said the seventh discharged patient was the index case in the state.
Ondo State also discharged its index case.
The Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, in a tweet yesterday, said the patient, an army officer, upon treatment, tested negative for the virus twice and now "completely healed."
Akeredolu said 22 follow-up cases, which had contact with the index case and secondary cases, had also tested negative.
Lagos Makes Face Mask Compulsory in Public Places
Lagos State Government has said that beginning from next week, residents must wear face masks in public places.
The Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, told reporters at a news conference yesterday in Lagos that one million locally-made face masks had been contracted to tailors and would be distributed to the people during the week.
He urged those with the symptoms of the virus to present themselves for testing, adding that two more isolation centres at Landmark Centre and Gbagada would be opened today.
"We have seen increase of infected people from our neighbouring countries. We have a responsibility to take care of them and they are in our isolation centre. The increase in numbers is evidence of our strategy to rip off the virus.
"We have seen that people that are suspected to have the virus have declined to present themselves or are going to private hospitals. The isolation centres are not death centres," he said.
On the enforcement of face mask, the governor said: "From next week, we are going to be enforcing the wearing of face masks in public places. Over a million have been commissioned to tailors and will be distributed during the week. It is important we do not panic. This pandemic will be over and a sizeable number of our people will get well."
Private Sector Coalition Order for 250,000 Testing Kits
The private sector-led Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) would distribute food palliatives to about 1.7 million households in Nigeria, just as it has placed orders for 250,000 testing kits and 150,000 extraction kits to fast-track molecular testing for the virus.
Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc and one of the initiators and leaders of CACOVID, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, told reporters yesterday in Lagos that the reality of the situation at hand calls for collective efforts in dealing with the scourge.
According to him, strategies and modalities have been put in place to get the relief materials to the targeted households and it would be done from the bottom of the pyramid.
He explained that representatives and CACOVID partners have been appointed in all the 774 local government areas of the country to ensure that the items get to the targeted families.
"The food is all packaged as we are rolling out, for each family, 10kg bag of rice, 5kg bag of garri, 2 cartons of noodles, 3-5kg of sugar, 1kg bag of salt, and pasta, which basically meets the World Food Programme minimum. And all the items are all heavily branded with CACOVID, to guide against the resale of the materials," he said.
Also speaking, the Chief Executive Officer of Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF), Mrs. Zouera Youssoufou, said CACOVID was setting up isolation centres in Lagos, Kano, Rivers, Borno and Enugu states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), while renovations of hospitals and medical supplies were being carried out in other states.
According to her, there are currently three testing platforms for molecular testing in Nigeria, noting that the 250,000 testing kits would fast-track the process.
"Eight labs in Nigeria are certified to conduct COVID-19 testing; 10 new PCR machines and 150,000 extraction kits have been ordered. The other is Roche Cobus Platform with six machines in Nigeria, each capable of testing 960 tests at a time. Nigeria was on track to receive 38,000 but we have ordered 250,000 and 10,000 tests ordered by UNICEF have arrived on Thursday, April 16.
"We also have Cepheid Gene Expert Machines - there are 400 machines installed in the country. Two hundred and fifty are expected to be functional with trained lab technicians. Cepheid has developed a COVID-19 testing cartridge and will begin shipping to Africa in two weeks. We have ordered 250,000 cartridges and expect shipment receipt in two weeks," Youssoufou stated.
Also, Chief Executive Officer, MTN Nigeria, Mr. Ferdi Moolman, urged other private sector organisations, which are yet to identify with CACOVID to do so.
No Approved Vaccine Yet in Nigeria, Says WHO
WHO has said there's no approved vaccine in Nigeria or any part of Africa for COVID-19 as researches are still ongoing on developing a vaccine to cure the virus.
WHO Immunisation Team Lead, Dr. Fiona Braka, spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the efforts of the world body on the reported vaccines for the deadly virus.
Braka said COVID-19, being a new disease, has no ready vaccines, adding that public safety was the key consideration of WHO campaign for now.
"COVID-19 is a new disease, and as such, there are no ready vaccines available to be deployed for the control of the pandemic.
"However, a lot of research and scientific works are ongoing to develop vaccines, but these usually take time to ensure that it is safe for use in the wider population and also effective for control of the pandemic.
"Public safety is a key consideration in this process," he said.
He dismissed claims of vaccines developed for the COVID-19 as WHO is not aware of it.
Another Survivor Recounts Experience
The Managing Director of Afriq Products Limited, Mrs. Eyamba Dafinone, yesterday called for a database of symptoms on the virus so as to enable Nigerians to recognise the virus and know the steps they ought to take in taking care of themselves.
Dafinone, a survivor of the virus, was a guest on Arise News Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers.
While narrating her experience, she said: "I travelled recently to England for a couple of weeks and while I was there, there was no talk about Coronavirus then. During my stay, I did the normal things and I also went to a theatre show and thereafter a friend of mine died and I had to go for the wake and while I was there, somebody sneezed and I panicked and a couple of days later, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson started talking about the virus and its implications and I then realised that since I have been out, I might have been exposed."
She said she decided to talk to her husband about it and coming home to self-isolate in a different compound because his mother is over 80 years old and his siblings are asthmatic.
"I just thought it was the best thing to do. He asked me if I have Coronavirus, but I said I wasn't sure because I haven't been tested. I had to make arrangements in a different compound and from the airport, I went directly there. He did say why don't you stay in England and I said rather than be on NHS statistics, I will rather come home where they could deal with the disease.
"When I got to Lagos, I arrived on Saturday on Virgin Atlantic on March 21 and moved to Victoria Island and I was there on my own and during my stay I had my birthday.
"I had a self-isolation party and I got a lot of cakes, flowers and a lot of presents and the next day, I started having pains and I thought maybe I wasn't used to the mattress. The next day, I started having a running tummy and people said maybe I must have eaten too many cakes since it was my birthday. The next thing, I developed a temperature. So every symptom that happened, there was an excuse for it. And then I started sweating and my friends thought it was menopause."
She said she had a fever which wasn't going and she began to shiver.
"I was sweating and it was dropping on the floor and I told myself that this wasn't normal and subsequently, I was exhausted and tired; and I felt it was time to call a doctor because I didn't understand what was going on. I wasn't coughing or breathless and when I called the doctor, they monitored me on the phone and they were looking at me and now gave me an oximeter to monitor my oxygen levels. They also decided that it was best to have a blood pressure machine to monitor my vitals which we did for a couple of days," she added.
Dafinone explained that her condition got worse by the day, adding that her doctors advised her to get tested, especially when they asked her if she could perceive any smell with her nose.
"The testing process wasn't easy, we had to make several calls to commissioners, permanent secretaries and other government officials before we finally got them to agree. I got a phone call and two doctors came to test me at home and I waited for my result. The next day I called them because I was feeling very bad. I told them I needed to be with a doctor, result or no result and I can't go to a private clinic that I will rather go to a place where they have doctors. My husband had come and he had been worried and the doctors had been waiting to pick me up. So, we went to the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), Yaba. When we got there, I was taken to a tent where I met two other patients."
She said she was taken to the main ward, which was a room for six people, but already had four other patients.
"I was with these people and there was a lot of love and support and inter-shared stories as to what might have happened to them. Everybody's symptoms were totally different and my stay there was good," Dafinone stated.