With rising cases of COVID-19 and looming second wave and talk of possible second lockdown days ahead of the Christmas and New Year celebrations, many Nigerians, including medical experts, are proffering solutions as to what the country could do to avert/contain further spread through community transmission, even as most Nigerians have since let down their guards.
It is feared that as Nigerians travel to the rural areas that lack basic/adequate medical facilities, while the country strives to access the anti-COVID-19 vaccine, individuals taking responsibility for their safety and others might be the ultimate help curtail the current sharp increase in cases of the epidemic.
To avert a second wave and possible second lockdown, a virologist and chairman of Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, told Newsmen: “Comply with the basic non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) of wearing mask, maintaining safe distance, washing hands regularly, improving general hygiene, sneezing into elbows, avoiding large gatherings and especially at this time. Stay home; avoid Christmas carols and such other services and festivities, as well as from wedding, baby naming ceremonies, etc. Avoid staying indoors in a locked and air- conditioned room.
“We have been told, but we have refused to comply.”
Tomori, who is a consultant with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and pioneer Vice Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, Ede, said the country cannot afford a second lockdown, adding: “No nation should ever again be subjected to a lockdown, especially locking down without compliance with preventive measures. This is double killer- killing the economy and likely to kill the individual.”
To Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu: “The nationwide lockdown at the beginning of the outbreak was put in place to initially limit the spread of the virus, but more importantly, allow for a scale up of response capacity, through contact-tracing and monitoring of COVID-19 cases.
“Our role at NCDC is to provide the required data and recommendations based on public health to the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19. A second lockdown will have effects on our economy, but we need the collective responsibility of all Nigerians to avoid this.
“This is not the time for mass gatherings, whether religious or social. We have to avoid gatherings, especially where held indoors and with poor adherence to public health and social measures.
“Please, wear a facemask properly at all times when in public settings. There are various guidelines we have developed for different settings and urge all Nigerians to take responsibility in protecting each other and our country.”
On enforcing the COVID-19 protocols, Tomori said: “Enforce? You cannot enforce anything in a lawless society ruled by lawless leaders. So, we must go to persuasion- bringing the COVID-19 issue to personal level: Allowing for people to ask the question, ‘what is in it for me in this COVID-19 matter?’ and providing the true answer, ‘with COVID-19, your life is in your hand. If you get it by not protecting yourself, you can be infected and fall sick and possibly die. So, choose life sickness or death. It is your choice.’
“The government will not die from COVID-19, but certainly you can die from it. So, persuade people to do the right things to protect and save their own lives.”
Ihekweazu, who is also an epidemiologist, added: “It is important to note that not every measure requires enforcement by government. Several institutions – business owners, religious leaders, traditional rulers, school heads, among others – have a role to play in ensuring adherence to preventive measures.
“For example, business owners can introduce measures to ensure that people visiting their stores have their masks on throughout to protect other customers and staff.
“We ask Nigerians to take responsibility and adhere to measures in place, which are introduced to protect us all. We will continue to provide public health advice based on the evolving situation and with several other considerations.”
Ihekweazu added: “Firstly, we have published an advisory to discourage all non-essential travels at this time. We recognise the state of the health infrastructure in our rural areas and so far, majority of Nigeria’s COVID-19 cases have been in urban/semi-urban cities.
“We are working with states to ensure that every local government area has a functional surveillance and referral system in place to ensure suspected cases are tested quickly, samples transported to the state laboratory and other procedures are in place.”
The epidemiologist said the NCDC was also introducing a Christmas/New Year focused communications campaign to ensure the public across states, cities and towns are aware of measures to take to prevent COVID-19 and what to do if they have symptoms, test positive or get in contact with a positive case, stressing: “The critical recommendation is that we avoid all non-essential travels at this time.”
On advice to Nigerians as they travel or gather for the Yuletide, Ihekweazu said: “We recognise that this has been an extremely difficult year for Nigerians. However, we cannot give up now and lose the gains we have made.
“Please, adhere to all COVID-19 public health and safety measures- hand-washing, proper use of facemasks and physical distancing are extremely important. While younger people may have mild to moderate symptoms, older people are more likely to be infected and die from the
“We urge people to be considerate of their family members, friends and fellow citizens, who may not survive the effect of this disease.
“Please, avoid all mass-gatherings, especially where indoors and with poor adherence to public health and safety measures. We all have a role to play in protecting our country. Share verified public health information with your network, so that Nigerians are better empowered to make the right decisions around their health.
“For us at NCDC, state public health teams and treatment centres, our work continues 24/7 even during the holiday period. Play your part in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
Tomori said it is difficult to say how soon Nigeria could access COVID-19 vaccine, adding: “We are still negotiating through so many channels and it is difficult to know when and how many doses we will get.”
He stated that it was a very wrong decision splashing N1billion each to all the states, including Kogi and Cross Rivers, whose leaders have misled their citizens over the issue of COVID-19 disease, noting: “There are also some other states in Nigeria whose leaders have been stumbling
blocks to the control of the disease in Nigeria.
“The hands of such leaders are stained with the blood of their citizens who died unwittingly from COVID-19 disease, because they unwittingly trusted their uncaring and thoughtless leaders.”
Meanwhile, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is leading the continent to ensure that the vaccines can be tracked and traced to the patient and the adverse drug reactions can be monitored to safeguard the health of Nigerians.
Consequently, the agency has put in place, track and trace technology -driven initiative to ensure the products that left the manufacturers site are what the patient take.
Director General of NAFDAC, Prof. Christiana Adeyeye, who disclosed this at the agency’s staff recognition award, yesterday in Abuja, observed that the country’s drugs supply chain is chaotic and Nigeria is the second country in Africa to adopt the track and trace initiative and would use it to monitor the vaccines when they arrive.
Adeyeye also said in a bid to enhance local production of pharmaceuticals in Nigeria, NAFDAC has reviewed its 5+5 year validity policy to increase local manufacturing and reverse it from 70 per cent import to 70 per cent locally manufactured products.
She stated: “We are strengthening the pharmaceutical companies through the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) roadmap and enforcement to ensure that the products being made by the companies are safe, of good quality and efficacious to improve the life of our people.
“The outcomes have enabled NAFDAC to make risk categorisation of companies and advice on GMP certification and ensure compliance with respect to clinical sites”.
Adeyeye observed that her leadership has removed NAFDAC from insolvency to solvency within one years by paying off the N3.1billion debt owed by the agency, adding that the agency has moved from 13 to 18 directorates, thereby giving staff the opportunity to advance in their career, while its laboratories have been upgraded to international standards using equipment compliant to ISO 17025.
She commended the awardees, saying the successes recorded by the agency would not have been possible without the hard working staff and prudent management.