Nigeria ill-prepared to respond to coronavirus – Perspectives by Simon Ateba

Authorities have been unable to trace at least 73 persons who were on board a Turkish Airlines flight with coronavirus infected Italian patient, a week after he arrived Nigeria on Tuesday, February 25, 2020.

There were 153 passengers and crew aboard the flight but a reliable source told TODAY NEWS AFRICA from Lagos, Nigeria, where the Italian tested positive for coronavirus which causes COVID-19 respiratory disease, that only about 80 passengers had been identified and tested while at least 73 others have not been tested or located.

The source was quoting a senior government official as disclosing the figure with a caveat they would not be named as they were not speaking in official capacity.

The inability to identify the other passengers and to test them has raised concerns they may be people who need help and may unknowingly be spreading the virus in the community.

Health officials warn community spreading is more difficult to contain, especially if the virus was initially undetected while it was spreading in a community with close contacts and lots of travels for weeks.

Coronavirus is a new virus and so little is known about it at the moment, world’s renowned American doctor and leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Congress at a public hearing in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

In an interview with Politico, which was published Tuesday, Dr. Fauci warned that the coronavirus outbreak in the US “could be really, really bad”, adding that he did not think “we are going to get out of this completely unscathed.”

“I think that this is going to be one of those things we look back on and say boy, that was bad,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Politico’s Sarah Owermohle.

Talking to Congress members, Dr. Fauchi said with the weather warming up in March and April, the number of coronavirus cases could reduce.

That may explain why Africa has seen fewer cases at the moment with extremely hot temperatures and not snow or extreme cold.

However, community spread could help the virus pass from one person to another more rapidly regardless of the weather.

Apart from its inability to do contact tracing, information dissemination remains a big problem in Nigeria. Local journalists for instance find it hard themselves to provide information on how many test kits needed, available, lacking or in use at Nigerian ports of entry, including seaports, airports and land borders.

It is not also clear to local journalists whether the announcement of additional resources deployed to the airports were similar to measures taking at land and sea borders across Nigeria.

Information was not also available on the number of health officials deployed to Nigeria’s gateways. Most journalists told this publication they government claimed “many” health workers were deployed but were unable to give a figure.

Beside, there did not seem to be national portal where everyone, journalists and the public could easily read or watch updates on the government response to the coronavirus.

It was not also clear whether the Federal Ministry of Health and local and state health institutions had been allocated additional budget to deal with the coronavirus.

The Nigerian House of Representatives also took a two-week break on Tuesday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus without holding public hearing where health officials could explain to Nigerians what was being put in place to protect them or deal with a possible outbreak.

It was also unclear whether the government had put legal instruments in place to be able to quarantine people, especially large number of people.

While Lagos State had prepared a location in Yaba area to quarantine people, it was not clear what was being done in other states, if anything at all.

It was not also clear how much resources the government had put in place to quarantine people and provide for their basic needs while in isolation, including feeding, clothing and other medications they may be taking.

Even information on the total number of people tested or quarantined in Nigeria till date was not readily available.

There was also little information about whether the government was considering imposing some travel restrictions from high risk countries such as China, Italy, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

With the virus not manifesting sometimes for day, testing people on arrival at the airport does not seem as enough precaution to prevent the spread of the virus.

With the lack of information, budgetary allocations, legal instruments, it seems even though the government claims it is ready to respond to the coronavirus, in reality, very little has been put in place to prepare for maximum impact, to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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