The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has expressed fears that the number of coronavirus cases in the country will continue to rise for the next few months. This hint came as the lockdown imposed on the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states ends at 11:59pm today.
The Director General, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, told Sunday PUNCH in an interview that the number of cases was likely to increase given the increasing capacity to find and test more cases.
There were 220 new cases on Saturday as the total rose to 2, 388. The number of discharged persons rose to 385 while the number of deaths increased to 85.
The new cases were 62 in Lagos; 52 in FCT; 31 in Kaduna; 13 in Sokoto; 10 in Kebbi; 9 in Yobe; 6 in Borno; 5 in each of Edo and Bauchi; 4 in each of Gombe, Enugu, Oyo; 3 in Zamfara and 2 in each of Nasarawa, Osun, Ebonyi, Kwara, Kano and Plateau states.
Earlier, as part of measures to contain the rising spread of the virus in the country, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on March 30 imposed a 14-day lockdown on the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states, followed by a two-week extension. He noted that the extension became necessary as the pandemic was no longer a joke and had become a matter of life and death.
At the expiration of the extension on April 27, the President, in a nationwide broadcast on Monday, again extended the lockdown by one week, which terminates today. The President, however, said a nationwide curfew between 8pm and 6am would follow as a further measure to contain the spread of the virus.
Many state governors also introduced similar restrictions in their states, even though some have begun easing the lockdown despite the rising number of cases across the country.
Asked about his projection on when Nigeria would likely reach its peak and how prepared the nation was for it, the NCDC DG said, “There are various projections that have been developed based on various contexts. With the increasing capacity to find and test more cases, we will continue to see an increase in cases in the next few months.
Our strategy is to test quickly, detect confirmed cases, isolate and manage cases to recovery and follow up with contacts to reduce the risk of spread.
When reminded that despite setting up 15 COVID-19 testing laboratories, less than 20,000 tests had been carried out so far, Ihekweazu said people could access the situation report on the NCDC website. “On the 1st of May alone, we recorded over 2,000 cases and this will continue to increase,” he added.
He added that in preparing for the increase in cases, the NCDC was working closely with state governments to rapidly scale up the capacity in treatment centres, even as he had hinted previously that the virus would eventually spread to all the states.
Notably, there has been an astronomical increase in the number of cases in the past few days. Since February 27 when Nigeria recorded its first case, the nation didn’t hit the 1,000 mark until about two months after, April 24 specifically when the number of cases rose from 981 to 1,095. The number of deaths then was 32.
But, barely one week after hitting the 1,000 mark, the number of cases reached the 2,000 mark on May 1, when the cases rose by 238 to hit 2,170. The number of deaths also more than doubled as the casualty figure rose to 85 within the period.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, had recently warned that the state, which is the epicentre of the deadly virus, had yet to reach its COVID-19 peak. He had also warned on March 27 that the state might see up to 39,000 cases but that if everyone practised good social distancing, the figure would be limited to about 13,000.
Prior to the President’s latest broadcast on Monday, the Nigerian Medical Association warned that lifting or easing the lockdown was premature, given the “exponential” rise in the number of cases on a daily basis. It also warned that with the rate at which the virus was spreading, the consequence of lifting the lockdown could be tragic.
The World Health Organisation has also warned repeatedly that it would be hasty for countries to start lifting lockdowns. “No country is safe from potentially overwhelming outbreaks as long as the coronavirus is circulating,” it added.
Despite the warnings not to lift the lockdown, the Federal Government however said it had put in place measures to contain the transmission of the disease.
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 announced on Wednesday during its media briefing that the use of face masks had become mandatory, noting that despite the directive that government offices and banks could resume operations from Monday, maintaining physical distancing and personal hygiene remained necessary.
The restrictions on social and religious gatherings shall remain in place; state governments, corporate organisations and philanthropists are encouraged to support the production of cloth masks for citizens,” it added.
The National Coordinator of the task force, Dr Aliyu Sani, noted that to reduce the congestion, banks could only open between 8am and 2pm while civil servants on specific grade levels would be allowed to resume in their offices at specific times.
He stressed that all staff and bank customers must adhere to the personal hygiene and social distancing safety protocols, adding that all movements would be prohibited during the period except for essential services. He added that the ban on non-essential inter-state passenger travel remained until further notice.
But in a statement on Friday night, the NMA President, Dr Francis Faduyile, stressed that the timing for lifting the lockdown was premature because the nation was still battling with inadequate Personal Protective Equipment for health workers, lack of enough bed spaces in states for infected people and rising infections across the country, amongst others.
He added, “The easing of the lockdown even in phases is very premature. Nigeria should learn from her neighbour, Ghana, where the same action produced 100 per cent increase in infection rate in just a week.”
Meanwhile, the NCDC DG has said the country, like the rest of the world, will not return to life as it was before the coronavirus pandemic until 2021.
Ihekweazu, who spoke on Saturday on The Platform, an annual event of Covenant Christian Centre, explained that though mass gatherings could be difficult to avoid, it would be for the best.
According to him, it is a sacrifice “we will have to make as a people to get over this.”
He highlighted that members of the public would have to rethink how they conducted businesses, social gatherings such as weddings and religious gatherings in the short term.
The NCDC boss said, “We are faced with a difficult reality and we are not unique in this. Every country is, right now, looking at the same challenge and how to get us back to some level of normalcy.
But the reality is that we are going to live with COVID-19 for the next year, at the very least. So, we have to start thinking about how to live safely with COVID-19.
“Some of the changes we will need to make are actually good things to have forever. With the emphasis on hand washing, (use of) sanitisers and respiratory hygiene, my goal as the leader of the NCDC is that we continue doing this forever.”
He added that the habits would also prevent the spread of COVID-19, but also many other diseases.
“I hope we don’t go back, like we did post-Ebola, to an era of not washing our hands. Who would want that? So, we really want some of these measures to go on,” Ihekweazu said.
While fielding a question on the daily fight against COVID-19, the infectious diseases expert hinted that the worst had yet to come. “We really are at the beginning of this outbreak globally,” he said.
Ihekweazu added, “The point where we will assess how many people died in Nigeria versus everywhere else — it may be a year or two when we look back to the evolution of this outbreak. You can see that the outbreak comes in waves. We are not sure where we are on our own trajectory at the moment. It’s early days to reach conclusions around mortality.”
The NCDC DG noted that his team and many others across the country were working hard, adding that the state government and their care facilities were providing care for all those infected.
Meanwhile, the Federal Capital Territory Administration has said it will enforce strictly the ban on interstate travel and other guidelines regulating the easing of the lockdown as part of measures to contain the spread of the virus in the nation’s capital.
Also, Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, said people in the state who work in Lagos State would not be permitted to go out or come into the state as the lockdown in his state would not end until May 10, 2020.
The FCT Minister, Mallam Muhammad Bello, in the new guidelines on Saturday, directed security agents to enforce the overnight curfew from 8pm to 6am in order to prevent COVID-19 patients from coming into the FCT.
The Chief Press Secretary to the minister, Mr Anthony Ogunleye, in a statement, said all workers residing outside the FCT had been directed to remain in their respective states of residence until the lifting of ban on inter-state travel.
It noted, “Effective Monday, May 4, all civil servants in the FCT on Grade Level 14 and above are to report for work three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between the hours of 8am and 2pm.
All officers on essential duties are to carry on with their assigned responsibilities. All workers are to maintain safe distancing protocols of at least two metres and wear face masks at all times.”
Similarly, the Ogun governor, in an announcement via Facebook on Saturday afternoon, said the lockdown in the state would end on May 10, as a result of the initial grace the state was granted.
The governor said, “There is a total ban on interstate travel (outside Ogun). If you work in Lagos or any other state but live in Ogun State, you are not allowed to go to Lagos or any other state and return to Ogun.
All schools remain closed, while students will continue with their DigiClass. All essential service personnel will continue to work despite the lockdown. All public religious gatherings remain banned. All pubs, clubs, stadia, public pools, spas, gyms, salons, etc.
“All assemblies of more than 15 people remain banned. Restaurants may open on the approved days for take-out meals only. Burials and naming ceremonies are allowed but there must not be more than 15 people including the officiating ministers.”
Osun State Government on Saturday announced the death of another COVID-19 patient, taking the number of deaths linked to the disease to three in the last one week.
Also, three health workers who initially tested positive for the disease in the state have fully recovered.
The state’s Commissioner for Health, Dr Rafiu Isamotu, in a statement explained that the deceased, who was in her late 60s, died at the isolation centre at the General Hospital, Asubiaro, Osogbo.
Isamotu also said the COVID-19 index case in the state had been discharged after spending 38 days in the isolation centre.
He explained that the case arrived in Osun from the United Kingdom before being taken into the isolation centre, and subsequently to the care facility, where he received medical care for 38 days.
He was said to have tested negative twice for the virus.
“With the development, the total number of active cases in the state is now eight.
On a sad note, we lost a COVID-19 patient in her late 60s at our isolation centre in Osogbo. We pray to God to grant her eternal rest and give her family the fortitude to bear the loss,” he said.
In a related development, the state has threatened to prosecute any private school owner who opens for learning.
The government on Saturday said such a private school might lose its operational licence.
A statement by Festus Olajide, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, had accused some private schools in the state of using various guises to direct learners to resume learning in their schools.
It however described such moves as inimical to the health of the children and public health in general.
The statement further said, “Besides, such directive is a sabotage of the efforts of the state government at fighting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the state.
It should be noted for emphasis that the partial lockdown as explained by the governor does not cover reopening of schools. The ban on educational gatherings remains.”
Kaduna State Government has recorded its first casualty to the disease, according to a News Agency of Nigeria report.
The state Commissioner for Health, Dr Amina Mahammed Bolani, confirmed this on Saturday in Kaduna, adding that the first fatality was among three new COVID-19 cases confirmed in the state.
According to the commissioner, the state now has 28 confirmed cases and awaits results of 350 samples it sent for tests.
She said that the samples were especially from ‘almajiri’.
“Testing of 167 almajiris who returned from Kano has now been completed, and the number of positive cases from this group may rise.
“Cases in the state rose to 28 on Thursday. The three patients that increased the number from 25 include two males and the first female COVID-19 case in the state,” she said.
She said that the female patient was a health worker not involved in the treatment of COVID-19 cases.
Seven almajiris, three doctors, other health workers test positive in Bauchi
No fewer than three doctors, a nurse and another health worker have tested positive for coronavirus in Bauchi State since March 24 when the index case was recorded in the state, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.
Two doctors and the nurse are from the Federal Medical Centre, Azare in the Katagum Local Government Area of the state while the third doctor is a member of staff of the World Health Organisation in the state.
The health worker works at an undisclosed private hospital in Bauchi, the state capital.
The Executive Chairman, Bauchi State Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Rilwan Mohammed, disclosed to our correspondent in a telephone interview on Friday.
He said seven out of the 38 almajirisdeported from Kano State and isolated at the General Hassan Katsina Unity College, Yelwa, Bauchi, also tested positive for the disease.
Mohammed explained that the results of the tests carried out on the health workers and one almajiri were among nine results sent to him on Thursday from the National Research for Veterinary Institute, Vom, Plateau State.
He added that 10 new cases were sent to him from NVRI on Friday.
He said, “On Thursday, we recorded nine new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bauchi State. The results were sent to me from the National Research for Veterinary Institute, Vom, Plateau State.
“The results included those of two medical doctors and a nurse at the Federal Medical Centre Azare, and a health worker at a private hospital in Bauchi.
One of the almajiri returnees from Kano was also confirmed to be positive. There is also the daughter of an infected patient who was also confirmed positive.
“Also among them is one of those returnees from Enugu and Port Harcourt that we intercepted coming into the state last week. And then, there are three other people that were also positive.”
Mohammed,who is also the chairman of the Surveillance Team of the Task Force on COVID-19 and Lassa Fever in Bauchi State, said he received results of 10 more people who tested positive, including six almajiris and four others.
The new cases, he said, brought the number of confirmed cases in the state to 48 while active cases were 42.
He said six patients who had tested negative twice had since been discharged.
Lagos discharges 22 more patients as three test positive in Ekiti
The Lagos State Government on Saturday announced the discharge of 22 persons who had recovered from the infection.
The state Ministry of Health, via its official Twitter handle, @LSMOH, said 247 patients had not been discharged from the isolation centres in the state.
It tweeted, “22 more COVID-19 Lagos patients; eight females and 14 males, all Nigerians, were today discharged from our isolation facilities at Yaba, @LUTHofficial and Lekki to reunite with the society.
“The patients; 19 from @LUTHofficial, two from IDH, Yaba and one from our isolation centre at Lekki have fully recovered and tested negative twice consecutively for COVID-19.
With this, number of patients successfully managed and discharged in Lagos is now 247.”
However, Ekiti State Commissioner for Health, Dr Mojisola Yaya-Kolade, said on Saturday that there were three new cases in the state who were primary contacts of a late patient.
Yaya-Kolade said the three persons were already undergoing 14-day isolation before the results of their samples were returned positive from the NCDC.
The commissioner said in a statement, “The new positive cases are all females with ages ranging from 26-50 years, who had been in self-isolation for 14 days now.”
Ekiti State Government can confirm that three of the samples sent to the NCDC accredited laboratory for testing have returned positive results of the COVID-19 virus infection.
“The samples were from three of the primary contacts of our third case, the late 29-year-old mother who died of complications from childbirth on April 22, 2020,” she said.
The third case, a pregnant health worker, who travelled to the state from Lagos despite the lockdown, was attended to over childbirth complications in three health facilities before she was tested for COVID-19.
Yaya-Kolade said that the three new cases “bring the total number of confirmed cases in Ekiti State to 11, of which eight are active, two discharged and one death”.
The Taraba State Government has launched a manhunt for one of the positive COVID-19 patient who escaped from the state’s isolation centre.
Chairman of the state COVID-19 technical committee and state Commissioner for Health, Dr Innocent Vakkai, disclosed this during the committee briefing in Jalingo.
Vakkai, who gave the name of the patient as Talatu Idris, said aggressive efforts were ongoing to get the patient back to the isolation centre.
He urged members of the public to be vigilant and cooperate with the committee and security agencies to get the patient.
The commissioner added that five of the eight positive cases in the state were asymptomatic.
On Friday night, 16 fresh positive cases were announced by NCDC for Gombe State pushing the total number of cases in the state to 92.
The state governor, Inuwa Yahaya, on Saturday, inaugurated a 38- man special committee on relief and palliatives to cushion the effect of the partial lockdown in the state.
In Ebonyi State, a 25-year-old returnee from Lagos State has tested positive for coronavirus.
The case has brought the number of infected persons in the state to three.
The state governor, David Umahi, on Saturday, announced the latest case during a statewide broadcast.
In a bid to curtail the spread of the virus, Edo State Government has screened over 40,000 persons in the state, leveraging a partnership with private hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, to complement the ongoing screening exercise at designated government hospitals.
The state governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, who disclosed this to journalists in Benin City, said, “We have made tremendous progress, especially in the areas of screening, testing and improved awareness of our citizens. Working closely with private hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, we have been able to screen over 40,000 and tested over 350 persons.
The mobile courts established by the Kano State Government to enforce compliance with lockdown and stay-at-home order of the government has convicted over 400 defaulters in three days in the state.
Mr Baba Jibo, the Public Relations Officer, Kano State Judiciary, disclosed this to the News Agency of Nigeria on Saturday.
Buhari had on April 27 ordered a 14-day total lockdown of the state, aimed at stemming the spread of the deadly virus.
The state government has also started the process of converting some facilities into isolation centres as part of efforts to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
The state deputy governor, Dr Yusuf Gawuna, who is also the Chairman of the State Task Force Committee on COVID-19, made the disclosure, when he inspected the facilities on Saturday.
The facilities include the Abubakar Imam Urology, Murtala Mohammed Library complex, the Hospitality and Tourism Institute (formerly Daula Hotel), Sports Institute at Karfi and the Nigerian Air Force Hospital in Kano.
The facilities will be added to the existing three isolation centres at Muhammadu Buhari Specialist Hospital, Kwana Dawaki Hospital and Sani Abacha Hospital, Gawuna.
Meanwhile, officials of the NCDC have taken samples of a suspected case of COVID-19 at Aviation Quarters in Kano.
In the meantime, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, on Saturday described the high death rate in Kano State as a litmus test for dealing with the disease.
In a statement by his media aide, Mr Paul Ibe, the former vice president called on the Federal Government and all government agencies involved in the fight against the pandemic to collaborate with the state government to curtail its spread