PHOTO: The Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu
The Federal Government, as part of efforts to take advantage of two-week lockdown extension ordered by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), aims to conduct 4,000 COVID-19 tests every day.
The Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu, who disclosed this on Tuesday during a briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja, said 2,000 tests would be conducted in Lagos, 1,000 in Abuja and 1,000 in other parts of the country.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said isolation centres would be established at the country’s land borders.
Buhari had on Monday extended the 14 days lockdown he ordered in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states on March 29 by another two weeks.
The NCDC director general on Tuesday recalled that the President, in his speech on Monday, said the public health response to COVID-19 was dependent on ability to detect, test and admit cases as well as trace all contacts.
Ihekweazu said Nigeria had increased its laboratories for testing COVID-19 to 12, adding that the government would ensure every state had a lab.
Sample collection, now our challenge – NCDC DG
He stated, “We have achieved this largely by leveraging on the existing molecular laboratory capacity within our network across the country. We now have the capacity to test 1,500 people per day.
“The challenge right now is not laboratories’ testing capacity, but how active our public health workforce is in collecting samples from identified suspected cases and sending them to the laboratories for testing.”
We have sufficient testing capacity of 1,500 per day, but we are not close to exhausting it every day. From today, we have to push harder. Our target following the President speech is to get to testing 2,000 per day in Lagos, 1,000 in Abuja and 1,000 for the rest of the country. This is the target we have agreed.”
Test kits to be tracked
Ihekweazu said part of the innovation being developed by the PTF was to track all test kits sent to states to ensure they were effectively utilised.
According to him, he visited Lagos during the Easter period where a new strategy was developed, stressing that the new strategy must be replicated across the country.
Sample collection centres to be established
While highlighting processes involved in testing of samples, the NCDC boss stated that it took at least 12 hours for a sample test to be completed. He added that a positive sample could take longer period.
He stated, “We are establishing clinics in Lagos where people can go and have their swabs collected through a special arrangement. They (the swabs) have to be distributed to three laboratories in Lagos and in the following morning, have to be sorted. It is a complex process, but we have managed to improve on it.
“Outside Lagos and Abuja, there are places where we have laboratories and where we have extra-complications of transportation to the laboratories. There is a courier that does that on our behalf. You cannot just collect a sample, you have to save it in a medium that saves its viability until it gets to the laboratories.”
According to him, ambulances will be sent to individuals, who test positive for the virus, to convey them to treatment centres.
Lockdown not to stop outbreak
Ihekweazu said the lockdown extension announced was meant to ensure that the country was ready for reopening of its economic activities without fear of further spread of the virus.
He said, “The goal of the lockdown is not to stop the outbreak but what we are trying to achieve is to work efficiently within the context of reopening economy. Our challenge is to show that we can reopen (the economy) slowly and maintain public health response within a slowly calibrated reopening economy and we have two weeks to demonstrate this across the country.”
FG to build isolation centres in all land borders
Also at the briefing, the minister of health, stated that the primary health centres were not meant to treat coronavirus patients.
He added that treatment centres would be sited at border areas to cater for Nigerians returning from neighbouring countries.
The minister also said government was concerned about the prevalence of COVID-19 in the neighbouring counties
He stated, “Prevalence of COVID-19 in neigbouring states is a new concern. There is a plan to build treatment centres near the legal entry borders. The borders are closed, but when Nigerian citizens turn up, they are allowed in.
What we do is to take them to a facility where they can be isolated, screened and go through the protocol of 14-day observation before they are released. Those who are positive are taken to the isolation centres.”
9,029 contacts traced – Health minister
The minister said that Nigeria had made significant progress in contact tracing and that till date 9,029 persons of interest had been followed with 99 per cent of them already exceeding their 14-day observation period.
Speaking about a woman who claimed that she was given a fake result that confined her to an isolation centre in Benue State, the minister noted that all necessary steps were taken to ascertain the status of the woman, when she returned from abroad.
He said, “This is a person who came from abroad and headed for Benue but felt unwell, taken to a hospital and tested positive and placed in isolation. People who are infected can have no symptoms, mild or severe symptoms. Even without symptoms, they can be infectious. This person soon recovered and decided to doubt the test she had undergone.
Apparently, there was an altercation that made the people there to call me and I intervened and spoke with the person. She was disputing the result because she felt very well and showed no symptom.
“The first complaint was that she was not comfortable with the place where she was kept so we arranged for a transfer to a more comfortable facility and requested a second test which came out positive. We are planning a third test.”
Task force meets today to review exemptions
The presidential task force will meet today (Wednesday) to review exemptions to the lockdown.
The National Coordinator in the fight against COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, while responding to questions during the media briefing of the PTF, stated that the main purpose of the lockdown was to disrupt transmission of the deadly infection.
Aliyu said, “We will be having a meeting of the task force tomorrow (Wednesday) and we will be reviewing all the exemptions as well as the protocol that we released. So, there might be some changes that will come up.
“The main purpose is to enable us to be able to interrupt transmission, to reduce social interaction, to make sure that we are able to reach those contacts of cases that we have and isolate them on time.”
PTF to meet govs’ forum
“We are encouraging synergy between the different arms of government. We will be meeting with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum in the coming days and we have already established very close links with the state commissioners of health.” (punch)