The Federal Government said, yesterday, it was beginning to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic but insisted that Nigerians must continue to guard against complacency to avoid a second wave of the deadly disease.
Chairman, Presidential Task Force, PTF on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, stated this during the briefing of the task force in Abuja.
He said looking back at the national response, using science, data and experience from other countries, "we cannot but say that tremendous progress has been made and we are beginning to notice that the curve is flattening."
However, Mustapha said: "As we have always stated, this positive development shall be taken with vigilance and cautious optimism. This is based on the fact that we are convinced that we have not tested enough, we have only recently reopened our international flights and nations that had opened up their economies have done a re-think, following the resurgence of the cases in their domains."
According to him, the PTF is closely watching developments at the airports and taking-in comments and observations sent by well-meaning Nigerians and passengers.
"Most of the comments are around the protocols and requirements for departure, arrival, testing in-country, self-isolation. While the PTF regrets all inconveniences experienced by arriving passengers, I wish to state that the overriding public interest is a critical factor propelling the policies.
"The issues with access to the portal, cost, pre-boarding validity timing and other factors remain work in progress and shall be reviewed as and when necessary. The PTF shall remain open to your suggestions and comments.
"Let me once again send a strong appeal to all health workers particularly, JOHESU members, that the nation can ill-afford any further disruption to its health systems. The on-going strike has been very costly in terms of human lives but such losses can be avoided. Government shall continue to do its best to push through the negotiations with the unions and hopefully, reason shall prevail," Mustapha stated.
Paying for PCR tests
Mustapha, who noted that COVID-19 test for travellers in the UK was €250, said it was higher in some other countries.
According to him, at least one million international travellers use Nigerian airports annually, and that the cost of buying one million test kits is about N18 billion.
"It is not available in the budget. So how do you get the money to procure that? The Senate has promised to include that in next year's budget," he said.
Mustapha said traveling was largely part of leisure and it would be ill-advised to shift the burden of payment for tests to the national commonwealth.
National Coordinator of the Task Force, Dr Sani Aliyu, in his remarks, explained the decision to enlist the services of private laboratories to conduct COVID-19 PCR tests for intending travellers.
He noted that there were at least 5, 000 people going out or coming through the airports daily, adding that Nigeria is currently testing about 2, 500 people daily.
He said it would be a huge financial burden on the government to take up the additional responsibility of testing intending travellers daily.
Aliyu, however, said the PTF was working to open more private laboratories across the country, an action he said would bring down the price of testing in such facilities.
"Generally, PCR tests are expensive. They are not serological tests. It is not just about the reagents used but the manpower. We are ensuring that Nigerian travellers are not ripped off."
Reacting, the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, said there has to be evidence to show that the curve is flattening.
In a telephone chat, the NMA President, Prof Innocent Ujah stated: "How do I know that they are flattening the curve? There has to be evidence. I don't have details of how many tests they have done serially. We are doing less tests now, if we know how many tests that are done, and the number that is positive out the tests they have done, that is what will help us determine if they are flattening curve or not. We need more details; we need the number of tests that were done over the last one month and then the number of cases that are positive."
Further, Ujah stated: "If last week we did 100 tests, and 15 are positive and this week did 100 tests and 10 are positive and probably today, did 100 tests and five are positive, that means the trend is decreasing.
"The determinant is the number of tests you have done, so we need to know how many tests that were done before we say we the curve is flattening. This is science, not about speculation. There has to be evidence, we need evidence the number of tests."
"This is science and not about speculation. We know we are no longer doing enough tests. There has to be evidence of the number of test in the last one month. There has to be evidence because for people that are doing less tests to now say that they are flattening the curve can't be justified. We need to ask how many test are done and how many are positive that will determine the result," he stated.