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COVID-19 fears grips Nigeria as govt rolls out panic measures

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By Olisemeka Obeche, Cyril Mbah, Gabriel Alonta, Uzor Ugwueze

Barely three weeks after Nigeria recorded its first case of coronavirus and the federal government assuring that it was well-equipped to detect and handle cases of the disease, the country is on a panic mode as #COVID19Nigeria crisis escalates across the country.

As the official figure of coronavirus infections rose to eight on Wednesday, with possibility of more undetected cases, federal government and various state governments began to implement a raft of precautionary measures aimed at halting the spread of the virus across the country.  

More than 25 states across the country have announced various containment measures like restriction of public gathering, closure of schools, religious activities and social activities. Anambra, Benue, Lagos top the list of such states. For instance, Anambra, in an official statement, urges residents to steer clear of all public gathering as from March 23, 2020 and wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and allow it to air dry.

It also advocates the use of hand sanitizers, discouragement of shaking, hugging and other forms of contact salutation.

Meanwhile, the Enugu state government has relocated the state’s coronavirus isolation centre from the Colliery Hospital to the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, Parklane.  The government also approved N330 million naira to prevent and/or tackle the scourge in case of any outbreak.

Briefing newsmen in Enugu, the state medical team led by the permanent secretary, ministry of health, Dr. Ifeanyi Agujiobi, confirmed the immediate upgrade and relocation of the state Isolation Centre to ESU Teaching Hospital, Parklane, Enugu.

He said the government decision hinged on the team’s recommendation and in line with the advice from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that Isolation Centres are best located within the specialist hospitals for prompt and effective emergency response.

According to him, the arrangement will be more convenient and easier for patients and medical specialists in terms of prompt and timely attention. He added that this was more so because the necessary test equipment and facilities would be handy in the teaching hospitals”. 

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) also abruptly ended the ongoing orientation camp for its current batch, just as the National Sports Festival scheduled for Edo state has been suspended. The Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) as well as other sporting competitions are expected to suspended effective this weekend, all to avoid the spread of the virus.

FG measures  

After weeks of prevarication, the federal government on Wednesday announced ban on flights from 13 of the countries worst affected by the coronavirus epidemic. All the countries on the list, which includes the US, Britain, Germany, China, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan, have reported more than 1,000 coronavirus cases.

“Federal government has placed a complete travel ban on 13 countries. We have also suspended issuance of visas to citizens of these countries and have also cancelled all visas earlier issued to them,” said Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola, addressing reporters in Abuja.

Aregbesola’s foreign affairs counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama, also disclosed that Nigerians arriving from the 13 countries would be quarantined for 14 days and advised Nigerians to cancel or suspend travelling to those countries.

The federal government, after an inaugural meeting of the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus, also banned top public officials from foreign trips, announced suspension of visa-on-arrival until further notice.

The Senate on Thursday announced, through its president, Ahmed Lawan, partial closure of its interface with the public as part of measures against the virus in the National Assembly complex.

These Federal government panic measures come even as the World Health Organisation urged African leaders to “prepare for the worst” after a high-ranking politician in Burkina Faso became the first Coronavirus death in Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to World Health Organisation, WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at a news conference in Geneva, “Africa should wake up,” pointing out that “in other countries, we have seen how the virus actually accelerates after a certain tipping point”.

Experts have repeatedly warned about the perils for the continent, given its weak health infrastructure, poverty, conflicts, poor sanitation and urban crowding with WHO already placing Nigeria as a high-risk country regarding an outbreak of coronavirus.

Amidst fears, federal government had last month declared itself ready for the coronavirus. The minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq, who gave the assurance during a visit to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja.

Farouq said a lot of technological tools and human resources had been deployed by the relevant agencies of government at the airport and the National Centre for Disease Control’s laboratory at Gaduwa, Abuja. These measures, according to her, were also being constantly reinforced by other activities lined up by relevant ministries, agencies and departments.

“Nigeria has responded to the pandemic challenge by mobilising all relevant government agencies to ensure our people are protected by putting in place measures for prevention of the spread of the virus, early detection and, if necessary, managing cases detected in the country.”

Condemnation:

Meanwhile, some groups have already taken a swipe at the federal government over its response to the pandemic. For instance, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, has accused the federal government of not acting with required haste to contain the scourge of coronavirus which has hit the globe.

Its chairman in Enugu state, Bishop Dr. Goddy Madu, said the federal government was yet to take drastic measures to contain the scourge. He declared that it was time to ‘quarantine all the citizens’ and stop them from undertaking any trip to the hard-hit countries.

Madu said “one thing about Nigeria is that we are good at playing politics with everything, but it should not be so in a matter like this.

“The federal government closed borders against importation of food items but opened floodgates for coronavirus. We expect that the federal government should have restricted flights from all high-risk countries, especially Europe, China and America, but it took them several weeks for that to happen. Other African countries, including our neighbour, Ghana took that step long time ago.

He called on the government to quarantine all citizens and stop every form of entry into the country from high risk countries, saying “this will save us from avoidable disaster.”

The Advocacy for Integrity and Economic Development (AIED), a civil society group, has equally slammed federal government for failure to shut down protocol.

AIED, in a statement through its director of media and publicity, Comrade O’Seun John, said: “We find it extremely hard to understand the motive behind the refusal of President Buhari’s administration to close Nigerian borders and shut down our airports against travellers from coronavirus-infected countries in the wake of the global pandemic.

“Let’s make no mistake, Nigeria is on the brink of an outbreak and, like South Korea, which was doing everything right until patient number 31 decided to disobey social distancing order, we cannot afford to leave the country to the unseen hands of the divine”.

He demanded that “President Buhari must take action” and immediately initiate the shutdown protocol and protect Nigerian lives.

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