Coronavirus: Why Nigeria remains adamant to place travel ban – minister

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said on Thursday that seven federal teaching hospitals across the country would be upgraded and fully equipped with an oncology centre to manage all types of cancer.

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, on Friday, explained why the Federal Government has remained adamant to several calls to ban flights from Coronavirus (COVID-19) endemic countries, to prevent further importation of the deadly virus to the country.

Giving his usual update at a press briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja, the minister said the government is looking at the economic impact, and “what impacts the ban will have on our economy as other countries are doing.”

Dr Ehanire made this known even as he revealed that the Italian index case, who imported COVID-19 to Nigeria and the contact patient, who was earlier tested positive would be discharged from the hospital by next week.

The minister also confirmed that all the other contacts of the index case, who have been under supervised in isolation in the country would now be released to go home, having satisfied the 14-day minimum isolation period without testing positive.

He pointed out that the Federal Government has not deemed it necessary to ban flights from endemic countries, even though, some other developed countries with better medical and health system have done; because of its economic impact on the nation.

The minister said: “The question of banning flight, every country will take the measure that suits the situation. There are countries that have done flight ban, well that is their own decision because you weigh everything, the risks to you, the capacity you have to cope, and the impact of the ban on you, on life, on the economy and so on.

“So, if you weigh everything, you take that decision, you advise the government and the government will give you a decision. So, we here, so far we are noticing some things. First of all, there is already a lot of self restrictions going on. If you listen to stories of those travelling through Heathrow (Heathrow Airport, Britain), they will tell you that it is almost empty, that there is a reduction in passengers movement. Airlines are very heavily reduced, they are cutting flights.

“So, without banning anybody, there is already a restriction in movement in place, without you expressly banning this or that. A lot of flights are being cancelled, people are already restricting themselves, so that self-restriction is in place without you doing anything.”

On Nigeria situation, Ehanire said: “In our own case, we have looked at the impact, you know that the government is already looking at the economic impact of all of these on our economy as other countries are doing.

“In some countries, they say the shares are falling, the value is dropping and so, and so a number of people have been relieved of their jobs, people have been sacked because there is no business going on. Tourism is down, so they are looking at all the impacts on themselves, and we do that too.”

He pointed out that the Federal Government has set up a committee to look at economic impact, adding, “therefore, what we do, we weigh everything. What are the benefits, what are the cost, what are the loses and as far as we can see right now, the risks we have here are relatively low and we are monitoring very closely?

“I have a conversation with NCDC several times a day with the commissioners in Lagos and Ogun, we talk several times a day. I’m talking to various other experts and also talking with high authorities to be able to make sure that we are up to speed with what is going on, even regarding our sporting activities here.

“We are in touch with those who are organising it (sports) and we are assessing the risks and also what measures should be taken.

“Even without banning flights, we are already having serious impacts on the economy, the crash of oil prices and so on. So, the situation decides what measures you take and as at now, the measures we are taking are appropriate to the situation. We don’t want the measures to be too much and not too little.”

Giving a further update on the index case and the contacts patient and other contacts in isolation, the minister stated that as at Friday, 13th of March 2020, Nigeria has recorded still just two confirmed cases of COVID-19.

He said: “As at today, 13th of March 2020, Nigeria has recorded still just two confirmed cases of COVID-19. One case is now negative and will be discharged from care, while the other will follow in a few days.

“After 14 days of follow up with no symptoms, all contacts of the index case will be permitted to go home and rejoin society.”

According to the minister: “We continue to monitor all incoming travellers, and select those that fit our case definition for secondary screening. Following the declaration of a pandemic and increasing spread in countries, we have begun a review of our case definition. However, Nigeria has not yet placed a travel ban on any country, passport or flights.

“Between 7th January and 12th March 2020, a total of 42 people who met our case definition have been screened for COVID-19 in 6 States – Edo, Lagos, Ogun, Yobe, Rivers, Kano and FCT, out of which 40 tested negative and two were confirmed positive: the index case and contact of the index case, with no deaths.

“The index case is clinically stable and is much improved. Steady progress till early next week will guide the medical Team in discharging him. The second confirmed case, a contact of the index case is testing negative for the virus, meaning he has cleared the virus and will be allowed to go home.

“A group of 4 children and their teacher flew into Lagos from the United States. Prior to their arrival, Nigeria CDC was
informed by US-CDC, that this group had been in the same space with a confirmed case. We, therefore, sent these travellers into isolation on their arrival. Tests were done, which came back negative for all of them. They will stay in self-isolation for 14 days.”

He pointed out that the multi-sectoral Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has continued to oversee national response activities, while Nigeria has progressed in assessing treatment centres and have now ensured that every state identifies a location that can be used to manage cases.

On the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic, the minister said: “WHO has now declared COVID-19 a pandemic. It calls for cooperation and collaborative action to increase resources to quickly detect and control this outbreak. It is not a call for fear and panic. COVID-19 cases in China have continued to decline, evidence that the pandemic can be controlled.

“The Federal Ministry of Health is monitoring the global situation closely and seeking WHO advice. The Ministry through Port Health Services will prioritise measures for the containment of COVID-19, especially the screening of passengers at Points of Entry.

“Citizens are advised to discourage the spread of misinformation. Please ignore them as the only intent is to cause fear and panic. Rely only on information from authorised channels of the Ministry of Health, NCDC or State Ministry of Health.”

On the issue of Yellow Fever, he said: “Due to ongoing transmission of Yellow Fever in parts of Nigeria, it is pertinent to activate Nigeria’s Point of Entry Policy on Prevention and Control of Cross Border Transmission of Yellow Fever in line with WHO recommendation for all international travellers, 9 months and older, arriving in areas with evidence of persistent or periodic transmission of yellow fever.

“Consequently, the Federal Ministry of Health requested the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to communicate this to airlines for compliance.”

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