Nigeria: Covid-19 – Our Health System Can’t Bear Major Outbreak – Govt

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National Coordinator, Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, yesterday, said that the country’s health system is fragile and may not withstand the effect of a major outbreak of the pandemic or other infections.

This came as President Muhammadu Buhari extended the mandate of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 till the end of March, 2021.

Meanwhile, worried by increasing COVID-19 cases and poor adherence to preventive measures across the country, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, has urged Nigerians to adhere to recommended measures put in place by public health authorities during the Yuletide.

On his own part, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State yesterday urged leaders of Community Development Associations, CDAs, and Community Development Committees, CDCs, in the state to prevent further spread of the corona virus at community levels in the state.

This came on a day Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State warned elderly citizens in the state to avoid large gatherings, maintain physical distancing and adhere strictly to other safety protocols established to curb the spread of the virus.

Similarly, the Osun State Government has introduced new measures to curb spread of the virus in the state.

‘Our health system is fragile’

Aliyu in his remarks at COVID-19 End-of-Year report made available to journalists after presentation of the report to President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said that COVID-19 will be in the country for a while and will continue to be deadly, adding that a lot more work needs to be done to enable the country transit back to normalcy.

He said: “COVID-19 will be with us for a while. Although this is the new normal, it continues to be just as deadly. Nevertheless, we have shown it is possible to keep it in check through the work we have done; we must persevere and continue the communication and enforcement aspects required to keep us safe until the epidemic is over.

“Next year will be all about the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a huge challenge for the country and will require your leadership and continued commitment, Mr President. All hands must be on deck to deliver and overcome the challenges of securing the supply of safe and effective vaccines, logistics and acceptance.

“Our health system has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s health system is fragile and may not withstand the effect of a major outbreak of COVID-19 or other infections.

“There is an urgent need for a carefully thought through and action-oriented reform of the health sector that will improve our health security and place the country in a better position to manage future health threats.

“While a lot has been achieved, gratitude goes to the partners and donors, PTF members, secretariat staff without whom we will not have made any achievement. On behalf of the PTF, I will also like to thank you for the immense support you have provided us, your timely approval of our requests and guidance through what has been an incredibly challenging period for all.

“However, it is not over yet. A lot more work needs to be done to enable us transition back to normal. I am confident that working together and with your continued support, we will overcome this challenge once again.

“Nevertheless, we have shown it is possible to keep it in check through the work we have done – we must persevere and continue the communication and enforcement aspects required to keep us safe until the epidemic is over.”

Challenges facing PTF

On the challenges facing the PTF, he said despite the progress made over the summer, fatigue has started to set in, and an increasing number of people stopped adhering to the non-pharmaceutical interventions, NPIs.

He said: “Additionally, we observed an increase in the public’s level of mistrust around the severity of COVID-19. Furthermore, the decrease in sample collection and testing due to fear, stigma, and lack of cooperation by the public gave a false perception that Covid-19 was no longer a threat to the average Nigerian.

“The re-opening of businesses, schools, places of worship etc., plus the advent of massive public events linked to the festive season has contributed to the increase in cases we are observing today.

“In September 2020, the international airspace was re-opened and the PTF put strategies in place that would significantly reduce the likelihood of infected travelers into Nigeria. While these strategies were effective in sieving out Covid-19 infected persons, the process was not without its challenges.

“Nevertheless, we have continued to learn from our early response and from the lessons of other countries and will continue to work through these challenges to strengthen our response in Nigeria.”

He enumerated some steps to be taken in a bid to tackle the pandemic.

He said: “As 2020 draws to a close, the PTF needs to redefine its role in the COVID-19 response and identify how to streamline into a lean but effective response body that will focus on tackling COVID-19 by sustaining the gains made while maintaining a reasonable level of readiness in response to this second surge of the pandemic but also other outbreaks in the future.

“To this end, an end-term review was held last week, and we agreed upon some key next steps that we must push for — Greater coordination with effective devolution to the states.

States to ensure accountability on implementation of already funded activities – i.e., getting states to use the funds for the response effectively.

Improve sample collection and testing across all states. Collection of 400-450 samples across each of the 774 LGAs in the country must be instituted quickly. Also ramp-up testing at our land borders, particularly Seme.

Increase and target risk communication messages against all demographics in the country. Addressing the second surge via enforcement of NPIs. We know that NPIs are the most effective way of preventing the spread of this disease and for this, we must ensure that they are adhered to while allowing essential economic activities to continue.

We also need to institutionalize Infection Prevention and Control policy and training nationwide–it should become a standard of practice; thus protective equipment should be freely available, including from local manufacturers.

Vaccine purchase, delivery, roll-out and getting to the last mile. 2021 will see a tremendous need for COVID-19 vaccine introduction into Nigeria. This will require a comprehensive and implementable communication plan and strategy.

The global community has assured 20 per cent coverage of the vaccine need via the GAVI COVAX facility, but government will need to source the remaining 40 per cent for vaccines and all operational costs for delivery. This is a key step for 2021 through working with NPHCDA and all other MDAs and partners.

On Nigeria’s statistics, he said: “When 2020 rolled around 11 months ago, no one could have predicted the impact that COVID-19 would have on Nigeria and on the global economy.

“Today, we stand at 78,434 cases and 1,221 deaths in Nigeria. Family, colleagues, and some of our very own leaders have succumbed to this deadly disease. We have suffered losses but also seen several survivors. This virus spares no one.”

He said the PTF was able to strengthen the national and sub-national coordination of the response, adding that the PTF has continued to engage with traditional and religious leaders as well as civil society to ensure that prevention measures were heard and accepted by the public.

Buhari extends PTF mandate till March 2021

The President also said that Nigeria is in a perilous situation given the virulent nature of the second wave, adding that the situation demands that government must act decisively to protect the people.

President Buhari, while receiving the End-of-Year Report of the Task Force at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said: “Recent reports reaching me indicate that Nigeria is now facing a rise in confirmed Covi-19 cases nationwide which is similar to the second wave of infections occurring in other countries across the world.

“New epicentres have been identified and the nation cannot afford to lose the gains of the last nine months. I have critically evaluated the situation and remain convinced that urgent measures have to be taken to halt the spread and the attendant fatalities.

“Closely associated with the foregoing is the need to speedily and strategically access and administer the COVID vaccine in a safe, effective and timely manner. This is an important obligation that we owe Nigerians as we go into year 2021 and it must be carried out through an efficient machinery.

“Accordingly, I have authorised the following measures for implementation:

The extension of the mandate of the PTF for a further period till the end of March, 2021 bearing in mind the new surge in the number of cases and the bid for vaccines;

That the PTF should coordinate the process for planning and the strategy for accessing, delivery and administration of the vaccines using the existing health structures that have worked in the past in vaccine administration.

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Authorised the PTF to engage with the states for them to assume full ownership of this stage of the response by deploying legal structures and resources, including enforcement to manage the pandemic within their jurisdictions. Details of the advisory measures have already been announced.

And authorised the PTF and the Nigeria Immigration Service to ensure that all in-bound passengers who failed to show up for post-arrival COVID-19 test are sanctioned within the ambit of the law, for breaching the public health protocols.

“The nation is clearly in a perilous situation given the virulent nature of this second wave and we must act decisively to protect our people. I therefore, urge all sub-national entities, traditional rulers, religious and leaders of thought to collaborate with the PTF by taking up the responsibility for risk communication and community engagement at all levels. Now is the time for collective efforts to be intensified.

“As the festive season approaches, I urge all Nigerians to remain vigilant and stay safe. Non-essential trips and large social gatherings should be avoided or shelved completely.”

The President said that 2020 has been most challenging for the whole of humanity as a result of the havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 on lives, livelihoods, global and national economies, governance structures, health, social welfare and other systems.

He said: “It has consumed an inordinate amount of resources deployed to address it by countries of the world, without abating.

“Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has also taken and keeps taking, precious lives of our loved ones, leaving several homes, families and associates to mourn. May the Almighty God grant all those that have lost their lives to this deadly virus eternal rest.

“Over the last nine months, I received a total of eight Interim Reports along with one Mid-Term Report, apprising me progressively of developments on the COVID-19 pandemic, from the Presidential Task Force.

“I similarly approved several far-reaching measures recommended to support the achievement of the objectives of our National Response. I have been in constant touch about the pandemic in all corners of our country.

“Let me also add that I have religiously followed the daily national briefings by the PTF which has become the platform for communicating with Nigerians and the most authentic source of information which substantially reduced the space for fake news.

“The successes recorded by the PTF in managing the control of the pandemic since March 2020 are largely attributable to the multi-sectoral approach adopted by the government, the proactive steps taken and the commitment of its members.

“I wish to acknowledge the immeasurable support received from the National Assembly, state governments, the private sector coalition, the international community, development partners, well-meaning Nigerians who donated in cash and kind and also made sacrifices, the media organisations, security agencies and the frontline workers who toiled day and night as our last line of defence. The list is endless. Our gratitude is endless.”

‘COVID-19 impact can’t be fully assessed now’

He added: “The impact of the COVID-19 on global and national economies cannot even now be fully assessed. No nation of the world has been spared the experience of different degrees of economic downturn as several countries including Nigeria went into negative growth territories.

“To mitigate this impact, we developed an Economic Sustainability Plan aimed at cushioning the impact at all levels and stabilizing our economy.

“Family businesses, small, and medium scale enterprises and the manufacturing sector were all supported through various windows.

“Appropriate support has also been provided through the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Program, as well as the Trader and Market Moni loans. For the very vulnerable, significant steps taken include:

Expansion of the National Social Register to 3.6 million beneficiaries across thirty six States,;

Support provided to 8, 827,129 households through the 70,000MT food grains released from the Strategic Reserve; and

Support to 1,289,405 vulnerable households that benefitted from the Conditional Cash Transfers across 34 States.

“The pandemic also revealed the vulnerabilities in our health system which compelled our determination to ensure that its support is given top priority in terms of infrastructure, human and institutional capacities, legislative support, etc.”

Lagos tasks CDAs on fight against community spread

In Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu at the year 2020 Community Day Celebration, themed: ‘Promise Made, Promise Kept, More To Come,’ organised by the Ministry of Local Government and Community Affairs, said caution has become necessary in view of the spike in cases of COVID-19 patients in the state, adding, “please, we need you all alive. The virus is with us. It is real.”

Urging the association to monitor the 377 projects going on the various wards in the state to ensure that quality is not compromised, he said that his government has been keeping most of its promises, particularly on the ongoing projects in 377 wards which include drilling of boreholes, road constructions, provision of electric transformers, among others.

Fayemi tasks pensioners on COVID-19 protocols

Similarly, Governor Fayemi, while presenting N100 million cheques for payment of gratuities to 41 local government and primary school retirees in the state, said: “You have laboured for Ekiti State and now you are to collect the fruit of your labour and it speaks to the commitment of the government at ensuring that gratuity and pension are paid as at when due.

“I will advise also that as we celebrate Christmas and New Year, we should be guided and be reminded that COVID-19 is back

“Science tells us that the second wave is deadlier than the first wave. From history, we learned that the second wave is always more turbulent; so I will advise our people to observe social distancing, to wash their hands and observe other identified COVID-19 protocol. If it is not compulsory for us to go anywhere as we celebrate Christmas and New Year, let us stay at home.”

Osun govt out with new directives

On its part, the Osun State government in a statement by Secretary to the State Government, Mr Wole Oyebamiji, said that the State Executive Council after its meeting, expressed concern over what it described as appalling and abysmally low level of compliance to COVID-19 protocols by residents .

He said: “The council appealed to the citizenry to cut down on social gatherings for weddings, naming ceremonies, funeral ceremonies and others to reduce the spate of exposure and contact with possible carriers visiting the state during the Yuletide period.

“It also mandated religious organisations in the state to re-introduce the abandoned protocol regimes already put in place in the wake of the pandemic before the economy was unlocked for business activities.

“Additionally, the council directed its members to engage leadership of religious groups to sensitise and enlighten their congregations on the need to comply with the COVID-19 protocols.

“Towns and cities are to put on hold the annual days through physical attendance and change such to virtual versions.”

Celebrate responsibly, save lives, NCDC pleads with Nigerians

Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chike Ihekweazu, said the agency is escalating its ongoing public communications efforts through a new campaign themed “Celebrate Responsibly and Save Lives,” stressing the need for all Nigerians to take all necessary precautions for a safe and healthy Christmas celebration.

“Critically, Nigerians are being urged to adhere to recommended measures by NCDC and other public health authorities, as they celebrate Christmas and New Year. Please, avoid all non-essential travel within and outside Nigeria to reduce the risk of transmission.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 is more likely to spread in mass gatherings, especially when held indoors. We advise that people avoid mass gatherings during this time, or hold them outdoors with physical distancing, compulsory use of face masks and provision of hand-washing facilities or hand sanitizers.

“The campaign is specifically focused on the next four weeks, which includes the Christmas, New Year holiday and start of the new year, as there is a need to reinforce to Nigerians that now is not the time to let down our guard.

“COVID-19 has continued to threaten lives and livelihoods and we must take all precautions necessary. It will include the production of audio and visual materials which have been translated to local languages, for wide dissemination. The NCDC urges all individuals, traditional and religious leaders, business owners, the media, and other institutions to join the campaign.”

The campaign is part of the #TakeResponsibility campaign which began in February 2020 and focuses specifically on measures Nigerians need to take to protect themselves and loved ones during the Christmas and New Year period.

According to Ihekweazu, in the last two weeks, there has been a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across the country.

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