General News of Saturday, 1 February 2020
The World Health Organisation has identified Nigeria and 12 others as high-risk African countries for the deadly coronavirus disease.
The other countries are Algeria, Angola, Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
A statement by the body said the identified African nations have direct links or a high volume of travel to China.
The statement read in part, “WHO has identified 13 top priority countries (Algeria, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia) which either have direct links or a high volume of travel to China.
“To ensure rapid detection of the novel coronavirus, it is important to have laboratories which can test samples and WHO is supporting countries to improve their testing capacity. Since this is a new virus, there are currently only two referral laboratories in the African region which have the reagents needed to conduct such tests.
“However, reagent kits are being shipped to more than 20 other countries in the region, so diagnostic capacity is expected to increase over the coming days. Active screening at airports has been established in a majority of these countries and while they will be WHO first areas of focus, the organization will support all countries in the region in their preparation efforts,”
WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said it was critical that countries stepped up their readiness and “in particular put in place effective screening mechanisms at airports and other major points of entry to ensure that the first cases are detected quickly”.
Moeti added, “The quicker countries can detect cases, the faster they will be able to contain an outbreak and ensure the novel coronavirus does not overwhelm health systems.”
FG releases N71m for surveillance, screening
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has approved N71m to ensure that Coronavirus does not spread to the country.
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, told reporters after the Coronavirus Inter-Ministerial Multisectoral Preparedness and Response meeting in Abuja on Friday that a team had been set up to develop action plan for government on the next plan.
At the meeting was the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, while the ministers of Interior, Police Affairs, FCT, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Transportation, Aviation and Finance were represented on the occasion.
The World Health Organisation and United States Agency for International Development, as well as government health agencies were also represented at the meeting.
Ehanire said, “We had a good and successful meeting with health commissioners from Lagos, Kano, Enugu and Rivers states as well as the FCT. We have addressed all the strengths and weaknesses in the system. We have set up a team to develop action plan for government.
“An advisory from the Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday directed Nigerians to halt travel plan to China while also directing all returnees to Nigeria from China to be indoors within a period of two weeks to fully monitor possible symptoms.”
When asked how the FG intended to monitor the returnees to ensure total compliance, the minister said, “We are going to monitor all people entering Nigeria without looking at individual nationalities. People enter Nigeria on their own individual merit.
“We are increasing and improving surveillance and better collaboration among those who work at our ports of entry. We are looking at the airport largely, but also the seaports and the land ports. We are going to do some training for the officials.”
He added, “The President approved additional funds for the Port Health Services on Thursday. The resources are being provided for surveillance and screening activities that will be done (at the ports of entry).
“The amount approved is N71m for Port Health Services to scale up what they are doing. Every penny that was requested was approved.”
According to Mohammed, many travellers lie about their status and make screening difficult for officials.
He said, “We need a lot of public enlightenment. This virus will not make a distinction between public and private persons. We need to let people who travel know that there is a need for absolute transparency and absolute honesty when they are filling in their forms.
“Some people don’t take the forms seriously and they do mislead authorities when they are asked to declare their status. These are things we need to escalate.
“The National Orientation Agency has to do a lot of job because it is present in each of the 774 council areas. It can do a lot of taking information to the grassroots.”
When asked the amount of money earmarked by the FG for the campaign against Coronavirus, the minister said, “One of the major advantages of the declaration of global emergency for Coronavirus by the WHO is that they understand that combating it can be really expensive and there are states that cannot afford it.
“There are many partners that can help such countries. But right now, we are in the stage of working together ministerially to make sure we address the epidemic.”
On the possibility of stopping people from travelling to China, the minister said it would be difficult, adding that government could only give issue travel warning.
He added, “What we do is to give travel advisory to people. Unless it is very essential, we will advise people not to make some trips. It is a bit difficult to ban people from travelling. Another thing is that you cannot stigmatise people on the basis of coming from a part of the world with epidemic. Even if you have Nigerians in Wuhan, unless they indicate their interest that they want to come home, you cannot force them to come.”
He added, “We are in touch with our people in Wuhan. Our embassy in China has confirmed that we have about 16 people in Wuhan and that they are in touch with them. So far, they have not indicated their intention to come back and they are in self-isolation there. They will contact the embassy if there is a need to do so. To the best of my knowledge, none of them has contacted the virus.”