The Minister of Health Dr Osagie Ehanire said Wednesday that the new 12 cases of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) were imported into the country from Nigerians that returned from a West African country.
The minister said this during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 Pandemic in Abuja.
He said the newly discovered 12 cases was responsible for the spike in the number of the COVID-19 cases in the country to 151, adding that the percentage distribution between males and females stood at 70% to 30% respectively.
He said the new cases were discovered among some Nigerians believed to be returning into the country from either Cote d’Ivoire or Ghana, in a convoy of buses, heading for Osun State, adding that the discovery had underscored the importance of border closure as well as the need for government to order the necessary movement restrictions.
“I know that there were 12 new cases, in fact, this is interesting for you to know that one of the vehicles intercepted, trying to enter Nigeria from Benin Republic, with many Nigerians on board, it think it was over 100, heading for Osun state.
“I think they said they were coming from Ivory Coast or Ghana, I’m not quite sure, and it is said that it was among those groups that we had 12 immediate new entrants, so they are imported cases, which added to the 139, which I read, to give you 151.
“This shows the importance of importation and of border closure. In this case they are our citizens and were knocking at the door at the border and they had to be let in, but if they were not our citizens, definitely there would have been a problem having to handle infected persons of other nationalities.
“In this case, the closure of the border is important and we are asking and requesting Nigerians to stay where they are, except you absolutely have to travel because the risk of traveling itself exposes you to crowds”, he said.
The minister said the places where large number of ad-hoc health workers are currently needed are Lagos, Abuja, Oyo and now Ogun, where the confirmed cases are higher, appealing to health workers in the areas where the impact is higher to volunteer to enlist their services.
The called on state governments to start investing into establishing isolation centres, stressing that the purpose of the lockdown ordered by the President was to help health workers to zero in on the high-burdened areas. He said about 70% of the recorded contacts had already been covered and efforts still on to cover the remaining 30% as those within 30% had tendencies of multiplying.
He said if the situation changed and figures in other relatively low-burdened spiked, the president might have to take more stringent decisions for such states or the parts where the increase had been observed, especially when such placed start becoming a source of threat to other regions.
The minister also warned that the only options still available for Nigerians are the social distancing and other measures announced, saying the hope or getting vaccines was still far.
“With regards to the vaccines, I have said it before that this is a new virus and there is a lot of furious scientific research going to learn more about it, it’s behavior, about creating the vaccines for it, very many laboratories are working on it in the United States.
“In Nigeria, what we have succeeded in going at the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research in Lagos in determining the genetic sequence of this virus which was a big hit, the first time its been done in Africa, is that it’s been confirmed to be identical with the genetic composition of the virus going on in Italy when the index case came in here. So that is scientific feat.
“Some laboratories are using that genetic sequencing in sort of a reverse way to generate antibodies that will take care of this disease. Our scientists here are looking with the limits of their capabilities to take a deeper look at the coronavirus and see what they can learn from it and what they can contribute to the national body of knowledge about it. So the active participation is there. But even if you created a vaccines today, it has to undergo trials to make sure it is safe to use. Because the vaccines is not just to prevent you from contracting and illness, it is to also ensure that the vaccine doesn’t turn out to be an illness, something that harms you. So a lot of clinical trials must be done to ensure it is safe and that it works.
“Scientific projections is that that will take like one year. To get a vaccine that works is one thing but for you to take approval from the approval authorities- that is NAFDAC in Nigeria and the United States is NPA, to get a prove that it actually does what it’s meant to do and a proof that it does not cause any harm, so that will take about a year. Vaccine is still a long way off and so we have to focus on our social distancing and other measures to fight this virus.”
Also speaking, Director-General of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said any institution across the country interested in starting research in developing a vaccine can go ahead.
He said most of the researches coming out across the world were not being driven by government.
On the number of tests being done in a day, Ihekweazu said: “We are on 500 testing per day working towards 1,000 by next week. This is still a trajectory. And we have included Abakiliki in the last couple of days and series of other labs that will be included over time.
“We cannot announce the number of test done every single day but we will include it in a weekly update and make it available to the public. So that you know how many tests are being carried out and what proportion are positive.“These tests are being done across many labs, the more labs we have the more complex it is to get these data. Because remember are not only testing for new cases, every single case is being done until they clear the virus.”
Also speaking, Minister of Interior, Mr Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, assured that the ministry was doing everything necessary to see that the COVID-19 does not spread to the correctional and custodial centres in the country.
He said efforts are being made to keep those in detention safe from the disease, adding that government was also being careful not to do anything that would put the larger society in danger.
“The congested custodial facilities are in some of our urban centres, not all urban centres though, they in areas where you have huge population of people and understandably those who have the cause to be detained are more than the facilities we have, particularly at the awaiting-trial-persons.
“I can assure you that all efforts, all actions required to ensure that there’s no occurrence or spread of COVID-19 in any of those custodial centres are being done.
“I spoke about Kaduna yesterday; there was a mild disturbance in Kaduna yesterday and it was put under control. It happened because the inmates in the condemned section were anxious to know the outcome of out efforts to decongest some of the centres and they became agitated.
“It was put down without any casualty and I want to believe that, having been handled, information has gone round the commands to, one appraise the inmates of the efforts we are making, to see that the approval given by the President is effected very soon.
“I must add that what we are trying to do cannot be done by us as the federal government alone. More than 80% of the inmates in the awaiting trial group are from the state’s, they are state offenders.
“We are therefore working with the state governments, along with our own system, to break down the profile basis of incarceration in terms of detention and several other factors to ensure that if at all people will be released, they will be released without jeopardising the security of the nation. We are therefore careful and sensitive on the steps we take, even with threats of COVID-19.
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“I must add this because it is important, the NJC has been of tremendous help. By the middle of last week, NJC issued a directive to all courts in Nigeria to suspend trials that could lead to any detention in the custodial service.
“I must equally commend the directive from the IGP to all police formations in the country to release offenders or suspects detained on minor offences and that will go a long way in ensuring social distancing and reduction of detainees in those centres so as to ensure that occurrence of COVID-19 infection and the spread will be reduced, if not eliminated,” he said.