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Travellers shun COVID-19 tests as FG threatens sanctions

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 has raised the alarm over possible rise in the disease in Nigeria as travellers arriving the country shun the mandatory tests to establish their status. PTF chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who raised the alarm at a press briefing yesterday, expressed sadness at the failure of some Nigerians who arrived from abroad to present themselves for the in-country PCR test which they signed up to and paid for before arrival.


Mustapha disclosed that available statistics showed that only one out of three passengers have shown up for the in-country test. He warned that henceforth government might have to suspend the passports of travellers that refuse to show up for their PCR tests on arrival into the country after the specified seven days of isolation. “As you may recall, the PTF announced the guidelines on the reopening of the airspace and the obligations of arriving passengers.


The PTF similarly announced sanctions as a consequence of any infraction. Having observed serious non-compliance to the level of 65%, the need has arisen to activate the sanctions which include the suspension of the passports of such defaulting individuals for a period of six months minimum,” he said. National Coordinator of PTF, Sani Aliyu, said that the total sum of N50 billion has so far been released to the subnational governments to improve the testing capacities of the states and the Federal Capital Territory.


Aliyu, who disclosed the states have been given resources to tackle the disease, expressed gratitude to all state governors for opening up sample collection centres across the country. “Every state has received at least N1 billion, the state governments have received the largest single bulk of the PTF intervention. As of today, a total of N50 billion went to states.


So we have enough resources at the state level to be able to push for increased testing and improved surveillance. “We will continue to work with state governments and urged them to use these resources for the purpose that the Federal Government has given. We have to invest in making sure that the pandemic comes down. There is no doubt we have not flattened the curve yet.

“For those of us that follow the numbers very closely, despite the fact that we are not testing enough, if you follow the number on a week to week basis, you would have noticed a changed in the trajectory in the last one week based on the numbers released,” he said. Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who also addressed the press  conference, cautioned Nigerians to avoid complacency on account of the low number of infections published daily and the possibility of a second wave.


He explained that the advice was premised on the fact that risk perception remained very low and sample collection has been on the decline. “In the midst of all these, the nation has experienced several large gathering events during which the non-pharmaceutical interventions were not really observed. The situation in Europe and the reports from the U.S. showing the consequences of non-adherence, are quite vivid,” he stressed.


Ehanire equally raised concerns about the decline in the testing rate in several states of the federation. He said that available records indicate that only Lagos and the FCT have met the testing target of at least 1% of the population. Plateau, Rivers and Gombe have reached over 50% of target, while 25 states are yet to reach 25% of their population.


“We do not have the confidence to draw firm conclusions on our status, till this situation improves,” the minister said. He said that the government’s concerns have been heightened by several emerging factors that challenged whatever gains the nation may have made in recent months.


“The inevitable need to reopen air travel, to stimulate economic activities; the imminent reopening of schools and youth service, again necessary for restoration of social order, but which global experience links with spikes in COVID-19 infection rates in most countries; the effect of recent social agitation and unrest, with attendant disruption of services and widespread breach of all infection prevention protocols and the growing lackadaisical attitude to COVID-19 and disregard for safety and simple infection prevention and control measures, which I must admit, is not peculiar to our country,” he said.


He lamented that preliminary reports showed that contact tracing and case finding have declined in states with a consequent reduction in the number of persons tested. He, therefore, renewed his call on states and stakeholders to step up testing capacity, to help identify positive cases for isolation or treatment and protect the rest of the population. The minister emphasized the need to protect the elderly and vulnerable, who are the most affected in fatalities.


The minister said that evolving global situation of COVID-19 gave much reason for concerns. “Over 2.8 million cases were reported last one week, with half of the cases in Europe. The UK, France, Germany, Spain and others in Europe have resorted to lockdown and other measures, to control the pandemic. With the high volume of air traffic between Nigeria and Europe, we are examining the associated risk factors for Nigeria.


“The PTF has set up stringent criteria and measures so far, to limit COVID-19 importation: nevertheless, 18 travellers out of over 78,000 arrivals, were found to be COVID-19 positive at the second testing in Nigeria. This is a relatively small number, but it could increase with rising volume  of flights.


The better we are able to control importation of fresh COVID-19 cases to our country, the easier we can control incountry spread and return to our normal life,” he said. He advised Nigerians to adhere strictly to all non-pharmaceutical protocols just as he strongly advised people to postpone all travels to high burden countries of the world, including Europe and the Americas, except when absolutely necessary.


Meanwhile, the Federal Government has announced plans to set up a modern vaccine production company in Nigeria to encourage licensed indigenous production of the COVID-19 vaccines. Ehanire said that the ministry was preparing to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with a first line pharmaceutical company in Nigeria, on a Public/Private partnership to set up the company. He also said government was working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure Nigeria’s access to the COVID- 19 vaccine as soon as it became available.


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