•170 discharged, 21 dead
•Private sector coalition to distribute N23bn food to 10m Nigerians
•To unveil strategies to defeat pandemic today
•No country can fight COVID-19 alone, says NCDC
•Lagos to ramp up testing to 1,000 daily
•NMA mobilises 42 doctors as volunteers
By Goddy Egene, Martins Ifijeh in Lagos, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Segun Awofadeji in Bauchi
There were mounting concerns yesterday that COVID-19 pandemic might be going through the roof as confirmed cases rose sharply by 86, bringing the tally to 627.
The rise was the highest in a single day since its breakout in the country on February 27, with Lagos State having 70 of the new cases.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), which has said no country or state could fight the virus alone and called for cooperation in ridding the country of the virus, announced last night that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) recorded seven new cases, Akwa Ibom three, Katsina three, Borno one, Bauchi one, and Jigawa one.
It said 170 cases had been discharged while 21 deaths had been recorded in the country.
There was, however, good news: the Private Sector-led Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) said yesterday that it was set to distribute N23 billion worth of food items to 10 million Nigeria in 1.6 million households.
The distribution of the food items, billed to begin next week, is to cushion the effects of the hardship foisted on the people by the restrictions imposed on many parts of the country by the federal and state governments to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coalition will also today unveil strategies to help free Nigeria from the pandemic just as the Lagos State Government has set up sampling stations in 20 local government areas of the state to facilitate community testing.
However, amid speculation that the virus might have spread to Borno State, the state government yesterday said it was still waiting for the result of the first suspected case in the state, who happened to be a dead nurse.
Lagos State also recorded another death with the demise of an 83-year-old woman, just as it has clarified that it has no policy against the release of corpses of persons who tested positive for COVID-19 for burial.
Announcing the planned distribution of the N23 billion food items during the coalition’s inspection of its yet-to-be-completed 200-bed space isolation facility yesterday at the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) in Yaba, the President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, said the palliative would be shared in all the 774 local government areas in the country.
He said: “This coalition is not only involved in medical intervention, we are involved in food distributions to Nigerians. We are buying N23 billion worth of food items to be distributed during this lockdown, as food is very important in sustaining the stay-at-home order.
“Nigeria has about 200 million people. So we will be distributing the food items to five per cent of the country’s population, and that amounts to 10 million Nigerians.
You know on the average, each household has six persons, which means we will be reaching 1.6 million households in the country will food items. We hope to roll this out within the next 10 days.”
He listed the food items to be distributed to each of the 1.6 million households to include 10kg of rice, two cartons of noodles, one carton of spaghetti, five kg of sugar and one kg of salt.
“This will be in phases, but this is the first we will do as part of palliatives to Nigerians,” he stated.
He added that so far, the coalition has raised N25 billion, noting that efforts are still being put in place to get more funds.
The Chief Executive Officer, Access Bank, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, said the coalition, comprising about 50 organisations would be represented in all states of the federation to provide support to the government in the fight against COVID-19.
He said the yet-to-be-completed 200-bed space isolation centre in IDH, Yaba was being replicated in some other states, adding that the idea is to ensure Nigerians who tested positive for COVID-19 adequately get the needed care.
He said: “When we are done with the isolation centres, we will hand them over to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, which will, in turn, hand them over to the various state governments where they are being built.
“On the palliatives, you can see many Nigerians are already restive because of a lack of food. So, our plan is to take the items to each state, then to all local governments and most importantly, all wards in Nigeria. We will take it to the bottom of the pyramid so that poor Nigerians will not miss out on the palliatives.”
On how these food items will be distributed to the grassroots in the country, he said the Dangote Group had been involved in the distribution chain for a long time, adding that its structure would be used in achieving the goal.
Coalition to Unveil Strategies to Defeat Pandemic
The coalition will today unveil plans to help free the country from the pandemic.
The Chief Executive Officer of Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF), Mrs. Zouera Youssoufou, said yesterday in Lagos that the coalition decided to involve more corporate bodies and individuals who are willing to ensure the pandemic is stamped out.
Youssoufou said the coalition, in the past weeks, had been working on strategies to support the government’s efforts in many areas, adding that it has been working with the NCDC on building isolation centres and testing activities.
She added that CACOVID-19 has equally been working with the presidential task force to ensure an optimum result.
According to her, various committees have been set up for better synergy and operations in order to ensure that better results are achieved. Youssoufou said PWC had offered the coalition project management expertise while KPMG would assist with audit services to ensure transparent execution of the project and judicious use of funds.
She said apart from helping to build isolation centres across the country, the coalition would assist in the training of medical personnel for speedy responses in the area of testing and other actions.
No Country Can Fight COVID-19 Alone, Says NCDC
The NCDC has said that no country or state can fight the virus alone, adding that its unique nature requires all stakeholders to work in unity.
NCDC’s Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, at a meeting with the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, yesterday in Port Harcourt, stated that information sharing on new developments about the disease was key to surviving the pandemic.
“The unique nature of this virus is that it is a global pandemic. None of us can do this on our own. No country can do this on its own.
“We share information across the states to make sure that everyone is informed as they can possibly be. We share information on new developments, strategies, what works and what doesn’t work.
“Whether it is in detection, prevention, and treatment, our role as NCDC is to make sure that our technical colleagues are able to respond at all levels and are supported in any way with the expertise they need,” he added.
He lauded Wike for being firm and committed to checking the spread of the virus in the state, describing Rivers as one of the most important gateways into Nigeria and one of the most vital economies in the country.
Borno Awaits Test Result of Dead Nurse
The Chairman of Borno Taskforce on COVID-19, Alhaji Umar Kadafur, has said the state government is waiting for the result of the first suspected COVID-19 case in the state.
Kadafur, who is also the state’s deputy governor, told journalists yesterday in Maiduguri that speculation over the death of a nurse working with MSF in Pulka, Gwoza Local remained a mere speculation pending the outcome of the test.
“His sample has been taken, and we are waiting for the result from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
“People, particularly the media, should be patient and stop preempting the result.
“We have a patient who has passed away, there is a need to be patient as we await the result,” Kadafur said.
The Commissioner for Health, Dr. Salihu Kwaya-Bura, said the task force had put in place surveillance teams in all the 21 LGAs, monitoring communities for persons with possible symptoms; to take samples for investigation.
Lagos Sets up Sampling Stations in 20 LGs, Records another Death
As part of efforts to increase COVID-19 testing capacity in Lagos, the state government has set up sampling stations in the 20 local government areas where citizens that fit the case definition of COVID-19 can visit to drop samples for testing.
The Commissioner for Health, Lagos State, Prof. Akin Abayomi, told reporters yesterday that the strategy was geared towards bringing COVID-19 testing opportunity closer to the people.
He said: “The idea is also aimed at taking work strain off health workers that visit several local governments for case search and sample collection.
“The new arrangement would provide an opportunity for people at the local government with symptoms of COVID-19 to present early for testing.
“We have decentralised the locations where you can have yourself submitted for sampling. So, what we’ve done is to move sampling stations to the local government. And if you feel that you have any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, you can present yourself to these decentralised sampling stations.”
While stressing that the facilities were not testing stations, but sample collecting stations, he said those who meet the criteria would have their samples taken.
“We are not just testing anybody, there is a criteria for testing; you either must have COVID-19 symptoms to meet the case definition or be in close contact with somebody that has been confirmed with COVID-19. Your samples would be taken and it would then be sent to one of our accredited testing facilities and those facilities will then perform the tests,” the commissioner explained.
While answering a question on the use of face masks for COVID-19 prevention, Abayomi stated that wearing of face masks did not protect against Infection but rather protect people around an infected person.
According to him, the Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has given instruction that tailors and seamstresses should be commissioned to commence mass production of locally made face masks from a standard design that has been given to them.
Abayomi also said the state had recorded another death with the passage of an 83-year-old woman who died from complications arising from COVID-19.
This brings the total number of deaths from COVID-19 in the state to 14.
The commissioner, in a tweet yesterday, said: “23 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Lagos. The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lagos is now 309.
“Four COVID-19 patients were discharged as on the 18th of April bringing the total discharged cases to 94.
“Lagos recorded one death, bringing the total number of COVID-19 related deaths in Lagos to 14. The deceased is a female, aged 83 with underlying health issues.
No Policy against Release of Victims’ Corpses for Burial
Abayomi has also clarified that the state has no policy against the release of corpses of persons who tested positive for COVID-19 for burial.
He said this at a press briefing organised in Lagos yesterday, according to The Cable.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had stated that the corpses of victims of CCOVID-19 could not be claimed for burial.
But in a response to a question on why the body of the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Abba Kyari, was moved from Lagos to Abuja for burial, Abayomi said there was no policy against the action.
Kyari died of COVID-19 complications at First Cardiology Consultants Hospital in Lagos on Friday and was buried at Gudu Cemetery in Abuja on Saturday.
Speaking on the development, the commissioner said there was no policy against releasing such corpses for burial, save for a protocol, which has to be followed before the corpse is released to the family.
“There is no policy against the release of the deceased with COVID-19 in terms of release for burial. If you demise from any condition, there’s a protocol to manage every scenario.
“The protocol for managing death from COVID-19 is that the body is decontaminated. The body is then placed in a special body bag; we put them in two body bags and then place them within a coffin and the coffin is sealed.
“The family is then given the opportunity to come and collect the body and take for burial. The only restriction around burial is that you follow the current state law on congregations and that no more than 25 people in total, including the religious members of the ceremony and the gravediggers, [attend the burial],” he added.
Bauchi, Oyo Discharge Three More Patients
Bauchi and Oyo States have discharged three more COVID-19 patients.
One out the remaining two patients in Bauchi Isolation Centre was discharged yesterday after testing negative for the virus.
Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, in a tweet, thanked health workers and the state task force on COVID-19 for their unrelenting efforts in tackling the spread of the infection.
Oyo State Governor and Chairman of the State’s COVID-19 Task Force, Mr. Seyi Makinde, also announced the discharge of another two confirmed patients.
A statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr. Taiwo Adisa, quoted the governor as saying that the development has brought the number of active cases in the state to six and discharged cases to nine.
NMA Mobilises 42 Doctors as Volunteers
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) has said that 42 doctors with specialisation in infectious disease management had enlisted as volunteers to help in fighting the pandemic.
It also cautioned that any hospital involved in unauthorised treatment of COVID-19 patients may face sanctions from hospital registration board which might include having its facilities shut down for decontamination.
President of the NMA, Dr. Francis Faduyile, in a telephone interview at the weekend, told THISDAY that the association had responded to the appeal by the federal government to mobilise doctors and other medical professionals to serve as volunteers in view of the escalation of the COVID-19 infection.
Faduyile said: “We have sent a list of 42 volunteer doctors to the minister of health and we are also working on getting the anesthesia to join them.
“This first batch is mainly doctors from the headquarters and we believe that it is an ongoing thing. We have formed a committee of doctors, pharmacists, and nurses and we are also mobilising volunteers among them.”
While restating the position of the association deploring the treatment of COVID-19 cases by private hospitals, Faduyile said such acts, if proved, could lead to sanctions.