Beginning of the third wave: How Nigeria is bracing for COVID-19 pandemic

From cash transfers for the vulnerable to new test kits, Nigeria has announced a slew of measures 

By Bennett Oghifo
Published: Thursday 02 April 2020

Nigeria recorded 111 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as of March 29, 2020. This is after the index case, a 44-year-old Italian man, was placed in isolation for about three weeks from February 27 to March 20, 2020.

Assessing the gravity of the situation, President Muhammadu Buhari on March 29 ordered that Abuja, Lagos and Ogun be locked down. The government viewed the pandemic as a health emergency and an economic crisis, the president said, adding that every instrument would be mobilised to fight it.

Essential services are at people’s disposal — hospitals and establishments; food processing, distribution and retail units; petroleum distribution and retail entities, power generation, transmission and distribution companies; and private security companies — are up and running.

Those in telecommunication sector and print and electronic media are reporting to work and covering the pandemic from the ground. All seaports in Lagos are operational in accordance with the guidelines issued. And vehicles transporting essential cargoes from ports are being screened thoroughly.

While suspending passenger aircraft movement, the president said, “We are fully aware that such measures will cause much hardship and inconvenience to many citizens. But this is a matter of life and death when we look at the daily death tolls in Italy, France and Spain.”

The government, he said, has planned to cushion the effect of lockdown for the vulnerable section of the society. For one, relief materials would be deployed for residents of satellite and commuter towns, and communities around Lagos and Abuja.

He added that he instructed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to work with state governments in developing a strategy to sustain the school feeding program, without compromising social distancing policies. 

The government offered a reprieve to those who had taken small loans—by directing that a three-month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans be implemented with immediate effect.

He also directed that a similar moratorium be given to all federal government funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export Import Bank.

For on-lending facilities using capital from international and multilateral development partners, the president “directed our development financial institutions to engage these development partners and negotiate concessions to ease the pains of the borrowers.”

“For the most vulnerable, conditional cash transfers for the next two months would be facilitated,” he said, adding that the internally displaced people will also receive two months of food ration.

To make room for all eventualities, all federal government stadiums, pilgrim camps and other facilities will be converted into isolation centres and makeshift hospitals. Contributions and donations from private sector would be coordinated and centralised to ensure efficient and impactful spending.

The minister said:

As individuals, we remain the greatest weapon to fight this pandemic. By washing our hands regularly with clean water and soap, disinfecting frequently used surfaces and areas, coughing into a tissue or elbow and strictly adhering to infection prevention control measures in health facilities, we can contain this virus.

The government, he said, has pitched in Naira 15 billion to support national response in fight to contain COVID-19 spread.

Nigeria has been racing against time in curbing the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, according to Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu.

Ihekweazu, on a television interview stated that 70 to 80 per cent of those infected came back to the country from abroad.

“Do come back to the country, but please take self-isolation seriously. We need you more than ever to stay at home in your room, to let your family work around you for 14 days, if you’re ill.”

He admitted that the outbreak would slip into its third wave.

“There has never been an outbreak that has been reported real time the way this has been. We have seen the first wave of this outbreak go through China and other countries. A second incredible wave is now going through Europe. Unfortunately, we are seeing the beginnings of what is most likely to be a third wave, starting off in many countries in Africa, South America and in southeast Asia.”

Health minister Osagie Ehanire called on all state governors to identify treatment centres and scale them up while ensuring they are outside government hospitals.

The country is trying two short-term interventions for testing. First is process engineering to improve through-put in the existing labs.

According to the minister, healthcare workers are working in 24-hour shifts at Ambuja lab. The country will add four new labs to the network.

“We have worked in Ibadan over the last couple of days. Then we will go to Abakaliki, where we have a lab, and then to Port Harcourt and Kaduna,” said Ehanire.

Second, the country will convert high through-put tests available for HIV. Currently, there is a PCR diagnostics test that can test a large number of cases at the same time. However, the technology has to be changed and adapted for the SARS-CoV-2. The process will take up to three weeks, following which thousands of tests could be conducted at the same time. 

In addition, new test kits called CEPID have been ordered. Along the third line of preparation, he said, are new kits that can help scale up diagnosis.

According to Ehanire: “We are working on rapid diagnostics test kits and their procurement — short-term, medium-term and long-term. I want to assure Nigerians they would not need to pay for these tests.”

He, however, added that the country cannot ramp up testing as it does not have the requisite infrastructure.

“The game changer for us will be a rapid diagnostic test. We are doing process engineering to bring in more staff, improve lab capacities and add more labs to the network. The government has released funds for this.”

He added that the need of the hour was to flatten the curve so that healthcare systems are not overburdened.

Ehanire said:

I don’t intend to sound apocalyptic. But the truth is that time is running out. We are on the verge of reaching the level of community spread. We must take precautions or we will record exponential cases in the days ahead. There is no better way to say this.

Saying that things could get worse if people don’t cooperate, the minister added: “Some Nigerians flew into the country from overseas and gave wrong addresses and phone numbers in their forms, making it difficult for us to trace them. Let me say, without mincing words, that we are not getting the kind of cooperation that this moment deserves from Nigerians. We have a short window to stop this pandemic. We cannot afford to be complacent.”

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