By Owei Lakemfa
THE Coronavirus, Covid-19 borne by an Italian flying on the wings of the Turkish Airlines, slipped undetected into Lagos on February 24. The carrier went through the airport process, spent the night at a hotel in Ikeja, travelled to Ogun State and settled down to work, with nobody being wiser. He took ill two days later, was taken to a health facility which luckily took no chances by putting him in an isolated environment and calling for help.
Ogun State, a commercial centre, apparently lacked the necessary facilities and had to get assistance from Lagos where the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital confirmed the virus.
As authorities battle to save the Italian’s life at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, they have to find all those he had contacts with during his journey to Nigeria; those on the aircraft with him, the airport staff on duty, those who conveyed him to Ogun State and all those he had contact with in the state, including the medical staff.
Luckily China, the country with the best experience in dealing with the virus had sent a treatment guide to Nigeria. Within the 24-hour period the virus was confirmed in Nigeria, 11 other countries recorded their first cases. This brought to 55 the number of countries affected. In that period, the overall death toll in China, the epicentre, hit 2,790 with over 65,200 people under medical care and around 36,120 discharged. Worldwide, it had infected more than 83,000.
The Muhammadu Buhari government in its usual ‘show of force’ had televised its alleged preparedness to prevent the entry of the virus into the country. But apart from officials wearing face masks, washing their hands and the provision of sanitizers, there was no other apparent ‘preparation’. The airport staff also said beyond checking temperature rise in passengers at arrival as was done during the Ebola outbreak, they were not sure how to detect Coronavirus carriers. But unlike Ebola, Coronavirus sufferers may not immediately develop high temperature; this and fever come after a gestation period. Within a few days, the hand sanitizers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja was exhausted and not immediately replaced.
Also, it was unclear how the advertised Inter-Sectoral Committee which included agencies like Health, Aviation, Transport, Information and Culture, Police Affairs, Internal Affairs, Agriculture and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, set up by the Federal Government to prevent the entry of the Coronavirus, was going to carry out its mandate.
Not a few thought the government was merely grandstanding; giving an impression serious work was being done to prevent the virus entering the country. Last Thursday as the government was announcing that the country had no single Coronavirus case, Senator Ajayi Boroffice, the Deputy Senate Leader got up in the Senate to raise an alarm that the government was not serious about preventing the virus from entering the country.
He narrated his experience: “When we arrived (at) the airport in South Africa, we were not allowed to exit the aircraft for good 30 minutes. Officers of the medical corps of the South African army came into the aircraft and screened everybody before we were allowed to go out. When I arrived yesterday at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, there was no screening. All we were given was a sheet of paper to indicate whether we were sick, whether we have been to one country or the other, how we’ll be contacted in (an) emergency.
“How do you know whether I fall sick after I left the airport? This is very frightening.” He said countries with adequate medical facilities were working hard to ensure they contain the spread of this pandemic Coronavirus while Nigeria with poor medical facilities appears to be doing nothing concrete to prevent the virus entering the country. He added: “… From what I saw yesterday, I was afraid.” The senator asked the Ministry of Health to ensure that people are screened before leaving the airport.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, in agreeing with Boroffice, mandated the Senate Committee on Public Health to engage the Health Ministry in ensuring that proper steps are taken to screen passengers, adding: “We want to see every possible effort done at our airports and seaports, that people are screened when they come into our country. Every single life matters.” But the senators, like the rest of the Nigerian people did not know that they were asking government to lock the barn door after the horse had bolted.
If we cannot man our international airports against the entry of the Coronavirus, how do we fight its spread across the country? So the fundamental issue is whether the Buhari government has the capacity to contain the case or cases in the country while preventing new carriers entering the country. Another is how to protect the airport and medical staff who are our main line of defence.
There is also the issue whether enough is being done to sensitize Nigerians on the virus and how to contain it. For instance, are there measures to ensure the availability of santizers, wipes and face masks which on the first day of the virus detention, have become scarce. If adults know that everybody should constantly wash their hands with soap and water, not rub their faces with their hands and maintain some distance from people, especially those coughing, how do we ensure children in school who are wont to play, run around, rub their faces and touch themselves, also observe these rules?
How does the government intend to expand health facilities so that carriers who may travel to remote parts of the country do not just spread the virus? How do we counter the false claims that we need not bother about the virus because the Black gene is resistant to it? When we had the Ebola virus, there were widely held claims that it could be cured with salt, leading to many taking excessive amounts and even bathing with salt. This time, it is claimed that chloroquine cures the Coronavirus. How do we ensure Nigerians do not take overdose of a drug that can be harmful?
In this season of coronavirus, with stock markets and oil prices around the world plummeting, we also need to focus on the economy. For instance, Nigerian stocks fell 1.63 per cent on first day of the virus report. China, the worst hit, may also be the first to recover given the fact that its currency exchange rate is fixed, its central bank is giving special lending to banks, providing credit support at preferential interest rates to manufacturers and giving preferential loans to enterprises which are receiving fast-track approval. These to me, are the best practices we should emulate rather than further plunge the country into debts.