November 25, 2020

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COVID-19: No plan to shut schools, lockdown country — Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu

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COVID-19: No plan to shut schools, lockdown country — Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu

Says 3rd of new infections happen in Lagos

By Victor Otibgu, Chief Sub Editor & Chioma Obinna

Since the beginning of the outbreak of coronavirus across the world, there have been a series of misinformation and fake news around issues related to COVID-19 response in Nigeria. It is no longer news that the country has made gains in its response efforts as it has maintained its level of COVID-19 infection between 100 and 200 cases daily, unlike countries where thousands are infected every day and more lives are lost.

However, to sustain the gains so far and prevent a second wave of infections through appropriate messages and information, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu last week met with media executives where he spoke on major issues on the pandemic response in Nigeria, including testing, infections in schools, vaccines, the second wave outbreak, among others.

Infection in schools

The state of the current outbreak shows that we report 100 to 200 cases a day in the last two months and that data has remained constant. One-third of those cases were reported in Lagos. This means that there is still a lot of transmission happening in Lagos. A lot of the cases are in younger people and there have been school-related cases.

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The good thing is that when you have more cases in younger people they have much mild symptoms. A lot of times they are asymptomatic than when it happens in older people.

So age is a risk factor for severe illness. But it is not a risk factor to getting the infection. Anyone can get infected. We really have to protect ourselves.

We are working very hard supporting the state governments because schools are managed by the state governments and the ministry of education.

We don’t want to close down schools unless it is extremely necessary. What we are doing is to lockdown schools affected and manage the cases.  Our strategies have been successful. For now, the intention of this government is to keep lives and life-saving going. We also do not want to lockdown again, unless it is absolutely necessary because people need to earn a living.

COVID-19 is a big outbreak and may not be the last one that Nigeria will face. We have to continue to prepare for the future.

We are always worried about schools where they are mixed with boarding and day students because the day students will always go back home where they are most likely to live with their parents or grandparents. It is a delicate issue to balance up with. It is always better when it happens in a school with a full boarding facility.

However, the decision to open schools was a very hard one but after closing the schools for months, we have to open them. So far, we have managed to do so without a very huge spike but we have to be vigilant about it and also monitor especially school children and their parents.

Second wave

A second wave is not inevitable but it really depends on what we do. We have been working hard through the aviation industry to prevent new cases from coming into Nigeria. Yes, there have been some inconveniences in the first place but that inconvenience of testing before travel and after travel is one of the most stringent measures by any country in the world. And even though it has been a little bit inconvenient for travellers the primary objective is to prevent a second wave of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Testing for Travellers

If you are coming from the UK or you need a test to done privately, testing relating to travel you, you will pay 250 pounds or 200 pounds in some cases. We have been pushing with the testing companies to get it down to the barest minimum by private labs in Nigeria

None of those funds comes to NCDC but some states take a little administrative fee to ensure quality assurance. The platform was supported by the great work that CACOVID has done. Somebody sent out a voice mail a few days ago, that went viral that the government has removed the fee and people coming back should resist paying the fee because it is illegal and this literally went viral. A flight load of people that came into the country refused to pay and demonstrated at the airport. We have to start a new whole campaign that it has not stopped. We hope to be honest and to be able to remove or set up a new process that can make it a lot simpler to test.

Right now, it is just the necessary evil we have to go through because of the level of infection in the countries that we visit. We collect the data on the infection rates on where Nigerians travel to – countries in Europe, USA. The level of infections is very high. We need to appeal to Nigerians to be patient.

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COVID testing in NYSC

We introduced antigen testing in the NYSC camps and we ensure that everyone that enters is tested but the biggest challenge we have now is not the ability to test because we have enough reagents but apathy about testing. And even when people are ill they almost reject testing because they don’t want to be told that they have COVID-19.  There is a lot of work needed to be done to continue sensitizing the public on the need to test and assure them that it is not the death sentence.

Vaccines

We are excited about the opportunity of having a vaccine in a few months. but it will still take a long time when enough doses will become available and distributed around the world. We know that a lot of people are working very hard to achieve that as quickly as possible but until we get to that level we have to work together and sustain the gains we have made in Nigeria and keep the infection rates lower.

There have been three announcements on trials of vaccines and we are expecting a couple more before December. They have betrayed us because our primary path to access was through a coalition course called COVAX  brought together by  WHO, Gavi and CEPI to produce sufficient vaccine that can cover 20 per cent of the population but for a lot of the initial doses of the two main vaccines that have been announced could have been taken over by the high-income countries.  Competition for vaccines is not something we should all be proud of. We should not globally be competing to procure vaccines.

I am optimistic that things will sort themselves out. I think the good news is that none of us was expecting a vaccine that will be up to 95 per cent efficacy. We were hoping that if we have something 50 to 55 per cent, we will manage it.

For Nigeria’s ability to provide vaccines, we have a long way to go with vaccine development. We do not have vaccine development expertise required for it. We don’t have the ecosystem that will drive vaccine production.

 Why the infection rate is low in Nigeria

We don’t know we are still studying, there might be possibilities from other diseases but we should not belittle the actions taken at the beginning of the outbreak. Shutting down the aviation industry, the economy may have contributed.   In many parts of the world, cases are decreasing. We are yet to fully understand why it is so, we need to hold onto our gains so far.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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