The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control says the country is now reaching a critical level, adding that the hospital capacity will no longer be able to cope with more serious COVID-19 cases.
The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said this in a series of tweets on Monday while reacting to the spike in COVID-19 infections in the last one month.
Ihekweazu said this as the fear of COVID-19 spread at the National Identity Management Commission grew on Monday because Nigerians besieged the NIMC offices following the workers’ suspension of the strike they embarked upon on Thursday.
Recall that Nigerians have been trooping to the NIMC offices since December 14, 2020 when the Federal Government ordered telecommunications firms to disconnect telephone lines of subscribers who failed to link their NIN to their subscriber identification modules.
No fewer than 164 million Nigerians, whose telephone lines could be disconnected on the grounds of not having the NIN, have been thronging NIMC offices, disregarding COVID-19 protocols such as wearing of face masks and social distancing.
The matter came to a head on Thursday when the NIMC workers began a strike over the fear of COVID-19 spread in the agency.
The President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, NIMC unit, Asekokhai Lucky, had exclusively told The PUNCH on Thursday that three workers of the agency at its headquarters had been infected with COVID-19.
The Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora, had, on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily programme earlier on Monday said the Federal Government might soon suspend the registration for the NIN.
The minister said, “My understanding is that the whole process may be suspended so as to reorder the whole process in terms of management of the crowd because it was never intended that it would become a rowdy process like that. So people may have to wait and be called at intervals to go through the process.
But later at a press conference of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mamora ruled out the suspension or postponement of the NIN, blaming the challenges on the attitude of Nigerians.
Mamora stressed the need to avoid crowding as was seen under the guise of NIN enrolment.
He said, “There is absolutely no cause for this, if only people would voluntarily comply with advisories and guidelines as issued by the Ministry of Communications and its relevant agency.
“The statement credited to me on the social media as to the suspension of the exercise is out of context, hence misleading. For the avoidance of doubt, Mr. President’s order on the matter remains as being carried out by the relevant ministry.
Mamora added that the result from the tests conducted on prospective National Youth Service Corps members had confirmed that no part of the country was free of COVID-19.
The minister also said that the plan of the Federal Government regarding activation of oxygen availability in the states was on course with a view to effecting immediate repairs of non-functional oxygen plants.
On his part, Ihekweazu, in a series of tweets on Monday, said Nigeria was reaching a critical level, adding that the hospital capacity would no longer be able to cope with serious COVID-19 cases.
Sunday PUNCH had reported that Abuja had already begun facing shortage of bed spaces for critical cases who rely solely on oxygen which is also scarce.
The NCDC DG tweeted, “We are reaching a critical level where our hospital capacity will no longer be able to cope with more serious COVID-19 cases and health workers will be forced to make tough decisions. We need to protect our more vulnerable citizens.
“We all have to take responsibility. This is not for the NCDC, the PTF or government alone. By organising large gatherings indoors, you’re not only putting yourself and guests at risk, but also the staff who have limited choice but to serve. By going to clubs, you’re putting your parents at risk.”
Ihekweazu added that the number of coronavirus cases reported in the country had been on the rise in the last four weeks.
“In the last four weeks, we‘ve recorded a spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases. The virus is spreading fast, causing mild symptoms in some and severe illness/death in others,” he tweeted.
The NCDC boss said Nigerians must note that the 100,000 persons that contracted COVID-19 in the last 11 months were not just figures but persons.
“Most important of all, the 100,000 cases and over 1,000 deaths are not just numbers. These are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, friends whose deaths will be mourned and the pain of their loss deeply felt. The response starts and ends with the people of this country,” he said.
Later at the PTF press conference, Ihekweazu, disclosed that the centre would from next week roll out rapid diagnosis test kits in five tertiary hospitals in Abuja while the facility would be extended nationwide from February.
Federal Govt to extend curfew hours, meets with governors
Also at the press conference, the National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, said the Federal Government was considering extension of the curfew hours as part of its response to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had in April 2020 declared an 8pm-to-6am curfew. It was eventually relaxed to 10pm-4am and later 12am to 4am, which still exists to date.
But Aliyu said the Federal Government was in talks with the state governments on the review of the curfew.
The PTF coordinator also sensitised health workers to patients who present persistent fever “especially if there are respiratory symptoms or shortness of breath; it is possibly going to be COVID.”
Aliyu urged vulnerable persons to “please stay at home,” especially those who were above 60 or are diabetic and other core morbidities.
He said, “While we are not in (another) lockdown yet, it is in your best interest if you fall within this group to lock down because now is the time to actually keep away from the general public and mass gatherings.
While answering questions from journalists, Aliyu noted that Nigeria was one of the few countries that had a two-test policy, which was introduced in September.
He stated, “Nigeria is one of the few countries that have had a double testing policy. When the problem arose with the UK and later on South Africa, a lot of countries temporarily banned flights from the UK. And what did they do? They implemented the very same policy that we had from more than four months and running.”
Aliyu said the decision for a fresh lockdown did not rest with the PTF but all Nigerians.
He said, “On lockdown, the decision for lockdowns is in whose hands? It is not in the hands of the PTF, it is in the hands of all of us the general public, because who wants to have a lockdown? “
FG to review January 18 school resumption date
The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, said the January 18 date for schools to resume was not sacrosanct.
He said the date would be subjected to a review as a new date might be announced.
Adamu said, “On the January 18 resumption, we are reviewing it, we are going to review it. At the PTF meeting today (Monday) we considered it and tomorrow (today, Tuesday), the ministry is going to take it up.”
The Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Faisal Shuaib, explained that while Nigeria planned to vaccinate 70 per cent of its population, vaccine doses that would cover 20 per cent of the 70 per cent will be provided free by COVAX.
“It is the 50 per cent balance that we will pay for and the fund will be raised domestically,” he further explained.
Shuaib explained why Nigeria had not been able to produce its own vaccines.
He said, “There are questions around why we are not producing the COVID-19 vaccines in Nigeria. I want to just put it on record that the process of producing a vaccine is very complex and complicated. You don’t just go to a shelf and pick up a vaccine. So, it requires massive investments that have not been done for many decades.”
FG to release rapid test kits in Abuja next week
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of PTF, Boss Mustapha, said the pilot exercise on the use of rapid diagnostic test-kits would be rolled out in five tertiary health institutions in Abuja and would be done next week.
According to him, the current wave of infections had been swift and virulent just as no one knows how long it would last.
The PTF Chairman lamented that reports from all over the world showed that the COVID-19 pandemic was still wreaking huge havoc on humanity, economies and systems.
He said that factors that had contributed to rise in numbers from late November 2020 included increased local and international travels, business and religious activities, re-opening of schools without strict compliance with COIVID-19 safety measures.
Again residents throng NIN centres, shun protocols
But despite the NCDC’s concern, Lagos residents on Monday besieged the NIMC headquarters at Alausa, Ikeja, as the agency resumed registration.
The correspondent, who visited the scene, observed as people crowded the shut gate without observing COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing and wearing of face masks
An official, who spoke to The PUNCH on condition of anonymity, said some applicants arrived at the centre as early as 4am.
She explained that the workers had to clear a backlog of applicants, who were booked for last Thursday and Friday.
She said, “We resumed our operation today (Monday). Because we did not work last Thursday and Friday, we had to accommodate those we had booked for those two days. In addition to those we booked for today, that meant three days’ work for us.”
Asked why the applicants did not observe COVID-19 protocols, the official said the agency had no control over what happened outside the complex.
In Asaba, the Delta State capital, residents lamented the strict measures put in place by the NIMC.
The crowd at the NIMC office in Asaba was large and officials were seen using microphones to announce the stringent measures to the applicants.