The Federal Government on Monday vowed to deal with any foreign airline that violated coronavirus screening procedures for passengers arriving in the country.
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, was said to have given the warning in Abuja at the inter-ministerial meeting on coronavirus.
A source at the meeting stated that the minister said airlines that failed to distribute contact tracing forms to their passengers upon arrival at any of the international airports in the country would be sanctioned.
The minister stated this just as there were indications on Monday that the government was facing obstacles in tracing some of the people, who had contacts with the first coronavirus index case.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, while briefing journalists in Abuja, said some passengers, who were on the same Turkish Airlines flight with the first index case, an Italian businessman, gave telephone numbers that were not working.
Also, investigations by The PUNCH showed that ministries and departments within the Federal Capital Territory on Monday ignored safety tips by failing to deploy hand sanitisers to prevent the spread of the disease.
The Federal Government had on Friday deployed more medical personnel to international airports across the country as part of efforts to step up screening of passengers.
The deployment followed the first coronavirus case recorded in the country on Thursday when an Italian businessman, who was on a visit to Lafarge African Plc, Ewekoro, was diagnosed with the disease in Lagos.
The Italian is currently in the isolation centre at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, Lagos. Also no fewer than 100 persons, who had contacts with him, have been identified by the Lagos and Ogun state governments.
It was reported on Monday that isolation centres in the Federal Capital Territory, Kano, Ogun and Rivers states were not ready for use.
The Kano State Government on Sunday alleged that foreign airlines at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport refused to give screening forms to their passengers.
A source at the inter-ministerial meeting in Abuja on Monday said the aviation minister warned that everyone arriving from any part of the world into Nigeria should be screened irrespective of their social status.
According to the source, all airlines must give screening forms to their passengers, irrespective of the status of such passengers.
He quoted the minister as saying, “We will not allow them (airlines) do so (not to distribute screening forms) because we will not do that in their own country. Nigeria is taking this issue very seriously, especially civil aviation and those manning our airports.
“We will certainly deal with any airline that refuses to comply. We have the authority to do so. Also, all VIPs (very important persons) must be screened when they travel and return to the country.”
Failure to distribute forms means sabotage, says govt
Providing further explanations on what Sirika said at an earlier meeting on Monday, the Director, Public Affairs and Communications, Federal Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, in an interview with one of our correspondents, stated that the government would not take it lightly with any airline that did not give screening forms to its passengers.
He said, “Of course, there are sanctions that airlines will face if they fail to distribute those forms. These are forms that are meant to help control the spread of coronavirus in Nigeria and so if an airline fails to share the forms, that will amount to sabotage.
“Any airline that refuses to do that is sabotaging the government’s efforts at safeguarding the people. So it will be considered a big offence and severe sanctions will apply. But the specific sanctions, I don’t know at the moment.”
Explaining efforts to trace those who had contacts with the index case, the Minister of Health, Ehanire, said, “The airline that brought the index patient has been notified and has been advised to put the crew that came with the flight on observation.”
The minister stated, “There have been a few challenges in that some people gave telephone numbers that did not work or numbers that are said to be switched off.
“There are some of them who probably did not have telephone, like new arrivals in Nigeria that have not yet registered on any phone companies in Nigeria. But there are ways in which they can be found out.
“Some have probably left Nigeria and a day or two, but the manifest is a document to start with. The owner of the aircraft has been notified and the embassy of the index case has been notified. The World Health Organisation has been notified.”
He said there was no new coronavirus case in the country apart from the Italian being treated in Lagos.
Ehanire also said the isolation centre at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital would be ready for use in April.
He added that the newly built intensive care unit at the hospital would be used as a temporary coronavirus isolation centre in Abuja.
He said the ICU would soon benefit from the procurement being expected to be executed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. He however said that furniture had been put in place at the ICU.
it was reported on Monday that there was no functional isolation centre at the Abuja hospital despite the Federal Government’s claim that the hospital had been designated to house an isolation centre.
Giving an update in Abuja on coronavirus in the country, the minister said that so far, efforts to locate those who had contacts with the Italian had resulted in 58 people, including the driver of the taxi that conveyed the Italian, being placed on self-isolation in Lagos and Ogun states.
He said, “There is a new state of the art emergency unit which has been under construction at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada, and it should be completed by April. In the meantime, we are making use of the newly built intensive care unit (in the hospital) which has been equipped but it is also going to benefit from the NCDC procurement.
“As of March 1, 2020, there was no new confirmed case in Nigeria. About 13 or 14 tests have been done and except the Italian, there is no other person diagnosed with the virus.
“There were 156 passengers on the manifest of the flight that brought the index case. Port Health Services and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control have been supporting Ogun and Lagos state governments to carry out contact tracing and other response activities.
58 people in self-isolation
“Contact with the index case is currently identified as 19 in Lagos State and 39 in Ogun State. We are in touch with these contacts who are under supervised self-isolation and the states are providing them with temperature monitoring tools. The taxi driver has been identified and under observation.
The minister also called on schools not to ask pupils to come to school with face masks. He added that except in the case of an infected person, the use of face mask, especially in Nigeria where coronavirus spread had not been established than the single case in Lagos, is not necessary at this stage.
The minister added that multi-sectoral Emergency Operation Centre, led by the NCDC was activated on February 28, 2020, and it would continue to coordinate national response activities.
He also said Plateau State had carried out tests on suspected people at the NCDC laboratories.
He said, “In the past two days, NCDC has updated guidelines for health workers and advisory for the public. It is important for Nigerians to focus on the fact and not on fear or generate panic.
“Plateau State Government reported four cases of Chinese nationals on February 29, 2020 but none of the cases had any symptoms. They have all been tested at NCDC reference laboratories and were negative for coronavirus. They have been in self-isolation for 14 days.”
On the actual amount needed to combat the virus, the minister said there was no fixed budget and that effort would be provided as event unfolded.
He added, “Not all coronavirus infections come in the same way. Some run without symptoms, some are infected but you do not see it (symptoms). Others are infected and what you see are slight cough and fever. Others fall desperately ill. The majority of those infected do not have symptoms but there is a problem that they could infect those with no immunity. These are emerging fact about the disease.”
Ministries ignore safety tips, fail to deploy sanitisers
While the minister was warning foreign airlines, ministries and departments within the Federal Capital Territory were ignoring saftety procedures.
One of our correspondents, who visited the Federal Civil Service Secretariat along Shehu Shagari Way, and the other wing along Ahmadu Bello Way, Central Business District, on Monday, observed that while there were hand sanitiser dispensers glued to the walls, they were all empty.
The story was the same at the old office of the Civil Service of the Federation.
The dispensers, it was learnt, were installed in 2014 during the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease and had not been refilled ever since.
It was reported that there are at least 10 ministries within the federal secretariat.
They include the ministries of health, labour and employment, police affairs, special duties, education, aviation, sports and youth development, science and technology, Niger Delta and communications.
On the ground floor of Phase 3, Federal Secretariat, an empty hand sanitiser dispenser was seen in front of the elevator.
On the first floor of phase 3, where the Office of the Minister of Health is located, a security guard was seen administering sanitisers only to visitors who intended to visit the minister’s floor.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where several foreign nationals were seen, the story was the same.
At the entrance of the ministry where the flags of many countries were hoisted, there were two hand sanitiser dispensers installed on either side. They were also empty when our correspondent attempted to make use of them.
A security guard laughed at attempts by our correspondent to use the dispensers, saying, “There is no sanitiser there. It has been empty for a long time. Are you a new visitor?”
Two more foreigners tested negative for coronavirus in Lagos
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has said two more foreign nationals suspected to be carrying coronavirus from a high-risk country in Asia have tested negative in Lagos State.
Sanwo-Olu, according to a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Gboyega Akosile, said a series of medical examinations at the state’s bio-security facility conducted on the two foreigners, who were brought from Ogun State over the weekend, did not show any sign of COVID-19 infection.
He said, “It is no more news that we are managing a case in Lagos, but the situation does not call for panic. One of the lessons we learnt during the outbreak of Ebola virus six years ago is that, the grassroots were adequately sensitised and prepared.
“We are bringing the lesson back in this period when we are dealing with another highly contagious virus. We don’t want to record any loss of life to this virus. My administration places premium value on human life, which is the reason we have upgraded facilities at our bio-security centre and Infectious Disease Hospital to stop the spread of the virus. But we believe we will achieve better results in this effort if people at the grassroots are properly sensitised to how to protect their communities from the virus and other contagious diseases.”
The governor said the state government would maintain an open line of communication with the public on the progress being made in containing the virus, and advised members of the public to disregard any piece of information that did not come from the official source.
The Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, said the state government had intensified its search for all persons that had interaction with the isolated patient.
LASG deploys 60 surge staff to Lagos airport
In Lagos State, the state Ministry of Health has deployed 60 medical workers to collaborate with officials of the port health services at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
It was gathered that the medical personnel, described as surge staff would be trained and put on a roster at the airport’s screening point.
According to an industry source who spoke with our correspondent, the medical personnel at the screening point work on shifts.
It was earlier reported on Monday that medical personnel from state and federal ministries of health, university teaching hospitals and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control had been deployed in airports to increase the number of people on the ground for passenger screening.
Five Chinese sent away at Abeokuta FMC after reporting sick colleague
A doctor and a union leader at the Federal Medical Centre, Idi-Aba Abeokuta, have revealed how five Chinese were reportedly driven away by medical workers after reporting a colleague with symptoms similar to COVID-19.
The two officials of the hospital, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said the incident happened on Friday evening.
According to the account given by both officials of FMC , the five Chinese wore face masks and visited the hospital and went straight to a private ward.
The sources said the Chinese worked with a private company that used private ward of the hospital .
One of the sources stated, “They said they have a colleague at home that sneezes and coughs. They came to make an enquiry on how to bring him to the hospital for treatment .
“But, because there is no facility they could not take in, they just referred them to Yaba hospital, Lagos.”
One of the sources told our correspondent that , he was told on Monday that the sick Chinese had been taken to Yaba hospital.
When contacted for reaction, the hospital’s Public Relations Officer, Segun Orisajo, said he had yet to be briefed about the incident.
Orisajo also explained that FMC Abeokuta was not known for turning patients down when they needed the hospital service.
He said, “In all sincerity, I don’t know anything about that. They said we turned them down we could not attend to them , there is no substance in that.”
When asked if he meant that the incident did not happen, he said, “I cannot say for now , because, nothing of such I am aware of. Honestly, if I know I will tell you. I am not aware, that is the simple thing .
“We will not turn down any patient. The hospital will not on any basis turn down any patient. If they had been something of sort the management would have issued a statement.”