Researchers in federal government universities are working very hard to find a vaccine and cure for COVID-19, the Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, has said on Arise TV, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, dousing tension over the increasing numbers of the pandemic, which crossed 100-mark a day with the fresh 117 cases recorded yesterday.
Nigeria now has 782 confirmed cases with 197 patients discharged and 25 dead.
The government's confiden-ce-building statement came against the background of a cheering news from the United Kingdom that clinical trial of a vaccine on infected patients would begin tomorrow in London.
Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in its daily briefing yesterday put the fresh cases at 117 across eight states with 59 of them recorded in Lagos, Federal Capital Territory (FCT 29, Kano 14, Borno six, Katsina four, Ogun three, Rivers one and Bauchi one.
As the tally increased daily, the NCDC Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, told the Katsina State Governor, Hon. Aminu Masari, yesterday in Katsina that President Muhammadu
Buhari would have to make a tough decision next week on the way forward, revealing that the president would have a teleconference with the governors of the 36 states today.
Speaking yesterday during the Morning Show on Arise News Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, Nwajiuba said so far, a N5 billion fund had been created for research, adding that coordinated activities had commenced among researchers in the country on finding vaccines that can help in the prevention of the disease.
He said: "Nigerian universities are working very hard to finding a solution, and this is being done in a coordinated manner; some are doing researches at the molecular level, other are looking at the vaccine levels, and so on.
"I spoke to the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), Prof. Suleiman Bogoro, and he told me they were already talking to all the universities to coordinate research efforts against COVID-19. The coordination is important because the World Health Orgnisation (WHO) has stressed on coordinated race. It is not a competitive race.
"The executive secretary of the Nigerian University Commission (NUC) is also coordinating the efforts of everybody; so, we know who is doing what. They need to know who is researching on the molecular level, vaccine level, and the rest. The universities are providing some sort of guidance to the researchers," he said.
He also mentioned that the Federal Ministry of Education was also working towards providing electronic learning for primary and secondary students through the use of radios, televisions, and the internet, adding that this would ensure they are also learning while staying at home.
In the same vein, the Director-General of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, (NIPRD), Dr. Obi Adigwe, told THISDAY yesterday that the parastatal had commenced testing for locally produced ventilators as this would help curb the scarcity of the medical equipment in the country.
FG Shifts Focus to Kano, Monitors Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Edo
Meanwhile, the federal government has shifted focus to Kano State as the new epicentre of COVID-19 in the country and is also closely monitoring Oyo, Ondo, Edo and Osun States for new cases of the virus.
The Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha and the National Coordinator PTF COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, made this revelation yesterday when the task force addressed the media in Abuja.
Mustapha, while saying that the task force would submit its report to President Buhari, said Nigeria would not be the same again at the end of the pandemic, given some machines and technology innovated and invented by some Nigerians.
Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, said the state would receive attention given the current reality as a state with a heavy burden of the virus infection.
He said the PTF was also awaiting the NCDC and World Health Organisation (WHO) to submit their report and ascertain if the recent surge in inexplicable deaths in the state is related to COVID-19 infections, adding that support will be given to the state to strengthen coordination across board.
Aliyu reiterated this concern by stating that the federal government was closely monitoring the pattern of infection in Kano, Osun, Ondo, Oyo, and Edo States. He said because of the concern for Kano they had increased the number of tests to see the possibility of having more cases from the state.
According to him, "Because we are increasing the number of tests, as we ramp up, there is the possibility that we will continue to have more and more cases coming here.
"We do note the concern about increased reporting of cases - we are closely monitoring Kano, Osun, Oyo, and Edo. We note the particular concern with Kano and we have engaged closely with the state government.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, urged the people of Kano to ignore an unverified drug called COVID-19 vaccine, which is yellow in colour and presently circulated by hawkers in the state as a potential cure for the disease.
Meanwhile the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Ms. Sadiya Farouq, has said the federal government has distributed 279 trucks to the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States, which are affected by the lockdown imposed by the president.
Farouq said the trucks were loaded with some of the 70,000 metric tonnes of grains from the national reserves, which Buhari ordered to be distributed as palliatives to the states.
Lagos Discharges Nine More Patients, Records Two Deaths
In another development, Lagos State Government has discharged nine more COVID-19 patients, bringing to 107 the total number of successfully treated persons in the state.
Announcing this yesterday, the Incident Commander on COVID-19 in the state, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said the discharged patients include five females and four males.
He said: "They are eight Nigerians and one Polish citizen. Five were discharged from the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba and four from Onikan Isolation Centre."
The state government also yesterday announced the deaths of two more COVID-19 patients, bringing the total number of COVID-19 related deaths in the state to 16.
The state Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, via his Twitter handle, @ProfAkinAbayomi said the dead patients were aged 45 and 36 respectively.
He said, "One of the deceased was a 45-year-old Nigerian; a male who returned from India in January 2020.
"The second death involved a 36-year-old Nigerian; female with a severe underlying health condition. She had no history of travel or contact with any #COVID19 confirmed case.
Buhari to Make Difficult Decisions on Lockdown Next Week
Ihekweazu said yesterday that Buhari would make difficult decisions for the country on the ongoing war against the pandemic after meeting with the governors today.
He, therefore, urged Nigerians to prepare for the tougher directives that the federal government would put in place to tackle the spread of the pandemic.
Ihekweazu, who was speaking in Katsina when he paid a courtesy visit to Governor Aminu Bello Masari at Government House said the decisions would be taken across the country in different ways.
He added that the president would today, have a teleconference with state governors, adding also that there would be some difficult decisions to be made on how to revamp the economic growth of the country.
He said: "Next week Mr. President will make some very difficult decisions for the country in terms of the lockdown in three states but also across the country in different ways.
"There will be some very difficult decisions to be made about how to restart part of the economy, what to restart and what not to restart."
The NCDC boss explained that Nigeria could not get back to the pre-COVID- 19 era, insisting that some adjustments had to be made in the country's engagements with the outside world.
He reiterated that scientists were working on a vaccine, which he said might not be ready for up to a year, stressing that a mechanism had to be established for controlling the spread of the pandemic in the country.
Responding, Masari said the state government had established a COVID-19 Rapid Response team headed by the state's deputy governor with membership mostly from the ministries of health, information, security agencies, religious and traditional leaders.
FG Urges Nigerians to Use Face Mask at Public Gatherings
The federal government has also asked Nigerians to use a face mask or improvised cloth mask at public places where social distancing may not be practicable.
Speaking at the media briefing by the Presidential Task Force, the Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunimbe Mamora, said the federal government had assessed the current state of the pandemic with regard to the rising cases in some states like Kano and had ordered heightened responses to such areas.
He said more medical supplies had been distributed to the states with special attention to the states with more cases of COVID-19.
He said that the Director-General of the NCDC, Ihekweazu and a team of health officials had visited six states to assess the state of readiness to contain the pandemic.
He said that 23 national rapid response team (RRTs) had been deployed to support the COVID-19 response in each of the affected states.
Nigeria Has Only 300 Critical Care Doctors, Says NMA
The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has, however, raised the alarm that the country has only 300 critical care doctors, an amount grossly insufficient should Nigeria's COVID-19 cases surge beyond expected.
The association also said the various researches on vaccines and cure by university scholars in the country may be hampered by the federal government's refusal to pay three months' salaries it owes university workers.
Speaking yesterday during the Morning Show on Arise News Channel, the President, Dr. Francis Faduyile, said these set of doctors were trained to care for patients needing intensive care but that they were in short supply in the country.
Faduyile said: "Those trained to operate critical care units are majorly the critical care anaesthesiologists. Unfortunately, we have only 300 of them in the country. Should there be a surge in COVID-19, it will mean we are in a short supply. Generally, we do not have enough doctors in Nigeria.
"But beyond the numbers, how many of our doctors are encouraged to take up the treatment of COVID-19? This is around the 7th week since COVID-19 started in Nigeria, yet there is no health insurance or incentives for doctors and other health workers on the front line. Up to date, no government paper or a categorical statement encouraging our members. Some Nigerians fighting the disease will need highly skilled personnel, yet these workforces are not encouraged."
He said in the last three months, Lassa fever had killed over 135 medical and health workers, adding that the government was yet to take steps to motivate health workers facing the COVID-19 pandemic.
On claims that the federal government was in talks with an insurance firm to provide life insurance to health workers fighting the pandemic, the NMA president said no health worker had been given any form of insurance.
"Some insurance companies have offered to give insurance to health workers, but what we hear is N1 million or N2 million life insurance for highly specialised nurses, doctors or consultants. You should know that this is gross under-insurance. Let government come out to tell us what it has done, so we know who they have insured."
On the use of face masks, he said it was a good development, but that this must be practiced along with social distancing.
FG Approves Increase in Health Workers' Allowance
In a related development, the federal government has approved three months' increase in allowances of medical doctors and other health workers in Nigeria.
The measure is targeted at those on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who led the federal government team to meet with doctors and other health workers said payment was expected to take effect from March 2020.
The approval is for three categories of healthcare workers. The first category is the payment of 50 per cent of salaries as hazard allowance to health workers, while the second is 40 per cent as the consolidated salary for healthcare workers.
UK Begins Clinical Trial of Vaccine on Patients Tomorrow
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom's Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has said that there would be clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine on patients from tomorrow.
The vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is being developed by scientists at the University of Oxford.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Hancock said the government was "throwing everything" at the vaccine drive.
The Cable reported that he also announced that a provision of £20 million had been made for the Oxford team to help fund the clinical trials.
Hancock said an additional £22.5 million in funding would be made available for researchers at Imperial College, London.
He said the government would "back them to the hilt and give them every resource they need to get them the best possible chance of success as soon as possible."
"In the long run the best way to defeat coronavirus is through a vaccine. This is a new disease, this is an uncertain science, but I'm certain that we will throw everything we've got at developing a vaccine," he said.
Reddington Refutes Claim over Suspension of Operations
Meanwhile, Reddington Hospital Lekki has refuted claims it has suspended operations for 14 days over COVID-19 exposure, saying the information was false and should be disregarded.
Announcing this yesterday, the Consultant Physician and Medical Director, Reddington Hospital Lekki, Dr. Misbah Oleolo, said the hospital was not exposed to COVID-19, as all protocols against the spread of the disease were being followed.
He said: "Our attention has been drawn to a memo issued by Oando Plc listing Reddington Hospital Lekki as one of the private hospitals, which have suspended operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have never had to suspend operations since the onset of COVID-19. We have been fully compliant with the guidelines issued by the Federal Ministry of Health regarding COVID-19.
"We will continue to pursue a policy of strict screening and surveillance of all patients and visitors to all our branches. A no-facemask no-entry policy has been instituted for the protection of our patients, staff, and visitors."
It expressed its displeasure with Oando for putting out unverifiable information about the hospital.