Nigeria: Govt Rolls Out Guidelines for Reopening of Schools

(file photo).
17 June 2020

The federal government has rolled out guidelines for the reopening of educational institutions.

All primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions in the country were shut in March when the federal government unveiled measures to battle the spread of COVID-19.

This is coming as there seems to be a major breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic as dexamethasone, a cheap and widely available low-dose United Kingdom steroid drug, has shown efficacy for preventing critically-ill COVID-19 patients from dying.

However, barely three days to the planned reopening of worship centres, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has suspended the plans, citing the rising cases of COVID-19 in the state.

The Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, rolled out the guidelines for the reopening of schools in Abuja yesterday.

He spoke at the 2020 Policy Meeting on Admissions to Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).

Nwajiuba said: "All institutions must have hand-washing facilities; body temperature checks; body disinfectants at all entering points to their major facilities, including the gates, hostels, classes, offices, etc; the whole premises of each institution must be decontaminated; all efforts must be geared toward maintenance of the highest level of hygiene and institutions must ensure social and physical distancing in class sizes and meeting spaces."

The minister hailed the higher institutions for responding promptly to the pandemic challenges by coming up with different innovations, including the manufacturing of some of the facilities that were required to attend to COVID-19 patients.

He warned them against reopening schools without the federal government's approval.

"While we look forward to easing the lockdown, which will ultimately lead to re-opening of our campuses, I urge all the heads of institutions not to wait till the announcement on reopening before putting in place all necessary measures in compliance with the protocols and advisories of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control," he stated.

Relief as UK Drug Reduces COVID-19 Deaths

There appears to be a major breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic as dexamethasone, a cheap and widely available low-dose UK steroid drug has shown efficacy for preventing critically ill COVID-19 patients from dying.

The drug is part of the world's biggest existing medicine under clinical trial for the treatment and possible cure for the deadly viral disease.

The research, led by a team from Oxford University scientists, has shown that dexamethasone cuts the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators, and by a fifth, for those on oxygen.

The Chief Investigator of the Research, Prof. Peter Horby, said: "Had the drug been used to treat patients in the UK from the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved. This could be of huge benefit in poorer countries with high numbers of COVID-19 patients."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said about 19 out of 20 patients with COVID-19 recover without being admitted to hospital.

Of those who are admitted, most also recover, but some may need oxygen or mechanical ventilation.

These are the high-risk patients whom dexamethasone appears to help.

Horby said the drug has already been used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions, adding that it appears that it helps stop some of the damages that can happen when the body's immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight off COVID-19.

"The body's over-reaction is called cytokine storm and it can be deadly.

"Two thousand hospital patients were given dexamethasone and were compared with more than 4,000 who did not receive the drug.

"For patients on ventilators, it cut the risk of death from 40 per cent to 28 per cent. For patients needing oxygen, it cut the risk of death from 25 per cent to 20 per cent.

"This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality - and it reduces it significantly. It's a major breakthrough," he added.

Lead Researcher, Prof. Martin Landray, said the findings suggested that one life could be saved for every eight patients treated on ventilators.

"For those patients treated with oxygen, you save one life for approximately every 20-25 treated with the drug.

"There is a clear, clear benefit. The treatment is up to 10 days of dexamethasone and it costs about £5 per patient. So essentially it costs £35 to save a life. This is a drug that is globally available," he added.

Drug Available in Nigeria, Says PSN

Reacting to the research finding, the President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mr. Sam Ohuabunwa, said it meant good news in the battle against COVID-19 in the country as dexamethasone is available in Nigeria.

He also said the indefinite suspension of date for reopening worship centres by the Lagos State Government would make little or no difference in halting the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

Speaking exclusively to THISDAY yesterday, he said dexamethasone is a steroid, which can be used on a short-term basis in the treatment of inflammation, adding that it must be used on prescription.

He added that if used on a long-term basis, it could become injurious.

"If this drug has now been found to be useful in the treatment of serious cases of COVID-19, it will be nice because right now, there has not been a major breakthrough. It is available in Nigeria and it is a very old drug. But what the researchers in the UK are doing is trying to re-propose it.

"From my review, the report is not as spectacular as they are saying because a drug that can save one out of eight persons on ventilators and one out of 20 persons on oxygen is not so spectacular. I know one life is important, but I think the point they are making is that the body goes through inflammatory responses when one has COVID-19. So, it works more like a supportive therapy, not like a magical cure," he said.

On the indefinite suspension of the decision to reopen worship centres by the Lagos State Government, he said it would be unfair to worship centres, especially because the government has opened markets and offices but singled out churches and mosques for closure.

"This is not a big step. If you are opening the doors for markets to operate for commercial activities and there is close contact, opening religious houses one day of the week and giving them mandate to follow strict health protocols won't fuel more cases than what the markets and offices would.

"Singling out religious centres is too little to make a major impact. Religious houses are closed yet the infection is increasing. This means that it may not add any real value. I wished the government had closed down everywhere," added.

Lagos Suspends Reopening of Worship Centres Indefinitely

Following rising cases of COVID-19, the Lagos State Government has suspended the plans to reopen churches and mosques until further notice.

The state, on June 4, had said mosques would be opened Friday, June 19 and churches, on Sunday, June 21.

But a statement issued yesterday by Sanwo-Olu, said the evaluation of evolving scenarios regarding the course of COVID-19 in the state and the corresponding public health advisory guidelines issued by experts necessitated the need for the state to reconsider the reopening of religious centres.

He said: "So, let me say this again: we are now hereby suspending, with immediate effect, the plan to re-open religious houses and places of worship in Lagos State until further notice. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and continue to base our decision-making on data modelling as well as on the responsibility we have to act in a manner that ensures the protection of all residents.

"Therefore, until further notice, all places of worship in Lagos State will remain closed. Social and events centres, and social clubs, will also remain closed, for now."

He warned that the state is now fully in the phase of personal responsibility regarding the pandemic, adding that this means that while the government maintains its responsibility to take protective decisions for the common good, what will ultimately save residents and defeat the virus is the sensible personal decisions taken on a daily basis.

He said: "Decisions to use masks anytime you are out of your house, to avoid non-essential travel, to stay at home when we don't have any business being outside, to wash or sanitise our hands regularly - these are the simple but necessary steps that will save and protect us all.

"As a government, we will continue to do everything in our power to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the people, but that can only be effective when the people themselves act responsibly, and do not behave in a manner that undermines public health guidelines and puts the society at risk," he said.

Nigeria Records 31 COVID-19 Deaths in One Day, 490 New Cases

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, the country has recorded an all high 31 deaths in a single day, raising the number from 424 to 455 deaths in the last 24 hours.

It has also recorded 490 new cases of the virus, bringing to 17,148 the number of confirmed cases in the country.

Announcing this yesterday, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Lagos recorded 142 new cases, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) 60, Bayelsa 54, Rivers 39, Delta 37, Oyo 30, Kaduna 26, Imo 23, Enugu 19, Kwara 17, Gombe 11, Ondo 10, Bauchi eight, Ogun seven, Borno six, while Benue recorded one case.

It said: "Nigeria has recorded 17,148 cases of COVID-19. 5,623 persons have been discharged, while 455 persons have died."

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