The Federal Government has lamented the lack of compliance with the PCR test protocol by about 65 per cent of Nigerians returning to the country.
This came as Lagos State government, yesterday, warned residents that the continuous disregard of COVID-19 protocols and safety guidelines could lead to a second wave of new infections in Lagos.
Disclosing the development, yesterday, in Abuja during a news briefing, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, and Chairman of The Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, said the passports of erring travellers would be seized as sanctions.
Mustapha said: “As you may recall, the PTF announced guidelines on reopening of the airspace and obligations of arriving passengers. The PTF similarly announced sanctions as a consequence of any infraction.
“Having observed serious non-compliance to the level of 65 per cent, the need has arisen to activate the sanctions which include the suspension of the passports of such defaulting individuals for a period of six months minimum.”
He highlighted the resurgence of the pandemic in Europe and the United States of America, USA, warming that Nigeria remains at risk of importation, having opened its airspace and massive spread as a result of the protests.
“The next week or two remain critical. The PTF has noted with sadness the failure of Nigerians who arrived from abroad to present themselves for the in-country PCR test which they signed up to and paid before arrival.
“Statistics emerging from our records show that only one out of three passengers have shown up for the in-country test,” the SGF stated.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, in his presentation, expressed concerns at the decline in the testing rate in several states of the federation.
He said records have consistently shown that only Lagos and the FCT have met the testing target of at least one per cent of the population.
Ehanire said: “Plateau, Rivers and Gombe have reached over 50 per cent of target, while 25 states are yet to reach 25 per cent of their population. We do not have the confidence to draw firm conclusions on our status, till this situation improves.
“Our concern is heightened by several emerging factors that challenge whatever gains we may have made in recent months: the inevitable need to reopen air travel, to stimulate economic activities, the imminent reopening of schools and Youth Service, again necessary for restoration of social order, but which global experience links with spikes in COVID-19 infection rates in most countries.
“The effect of recent social agitation and unrest, with attendant disruption of services and widespread breach of all infection prevention protocols, the growing lackadaisical attitude to COVID-19 and disregard for safety and simple infection prevention and control measures, which I must admit, is not peculiar to our country.
“While we still evaluate the impact of recent unguarded mass gatherings in various parts of the country as a risk factor for spreading COVID-19, my concern is that we may find a spike in confirmed cases, with the widespread disregard for preventive measures associated with large gatherings and movements.
“We must take collective responsibility for each others’ actions, if we are not to experience the upsurges in new cases experienced in many other countries, and a throwback to conditions worse than the present.”
He said preliminary reports showed that contact tracing and case finding have declined in states, with consequent reduction in the number of persons tested.
Ehanire renewed his call on states and stakeholders to step up testing capacity, to help identify positive cases for isolation or treatment and protect the rest of the population.
“The evolving global situation of COVID-19 gives us much reason for concern. Over 2.8 million cases were reported in the last one week, with half of the cases in Europe.
“The UK, France, Germany, Spain and others in Europe have resorted to lock-down and other measures, to control the pandemic. With the high volume of air traffic between Nigeria and Europe, we are examining the associated risk factors for Nigeria.
“The PTF has set up stringent criteria and measures so far, to limit COVID-19 importation: nevertheless, 18 travelers out of over 78,000 arrivals, were found to be COVID-19 positive at the second testing in Nigeria.
“This is a relatively small number, but it could increase with rising volume of flights. Moreover, it is estimated that traveler non-complia-nce with second testing after arrival, is significant, which is a challenge we are responding to in innovative ways, as we work constantly to improve the arrival processes for better protection of citizens,” he added.
Meanwhile, Lagos State government, yesterday, warned residents that the continuous flagrant disregard of COVID-19 protocols and safety guidelines by citizens could lead to a second wave of new infections in Lagos and subsequent lock-down.
It, therefore, stressed the need for residents to strictly adhere to precautionary measures against COVID-19 infection transmission to prevent a recurrence of the situation that initially led to the lock down of the economy.
Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, who gave the warning, noted that a resurgence of cases in Lagos could also lead to the reversal of the strategically calculated measures put in place by the government to open up the economy.
Abayomi, also a COVID-19 survivor, while speaking on efforts being made by the state government to sustain the gains made to control the global pandemic in the state, explained that many countries and cities are experiencing second, third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, with resultant spikes in the number of cases and fatalities.
Abayomi recalled that the first wave of coronavirus started in December 2019 and swept through an unprepared world.
He said the first case of COVID-19 in Nigeria was recorded in Lagos on February 27, 2020 noting that “Lagos has since become the epicentre of the outbreak in Nigeria with a record of 21,107 confirmed cases and 212 deaths from the virus till date.”
He said: “The containment measures put in place at the time included COVID-19 testing, isolation and treatment, surveillance, total shut-down of the state for about 12 weeks and partial shutdown of social, economic and academic activities for over four months.
“The erroneous belief that COVID-19 has been conquered and is no more in Nigeria should be discarded. Based on our data, this assumption is invalid. It creates a false sense of security amongst the citizens causing many to abandon the use of face masks and other safety measures and protocols put in place by the government.
“Though we have reached our peak as predicted and are now experiencing a decline in the number of positive cases, this is not a reason to conclude that all is over. COVID-19 is still much with us as evidenced in the number of cases being recorded in the community daily and occasional deaths from severe complications.
“The reason for the decline in COVID-19 cases in Lagos is attributable to a number of factors, including public adherence to safety regulations of physical and social distancing, hand hygiene, use of face mask in public places, expanded testing strategy and contact tracing, among others.
‘’This is the reason citizens should not relent in this regard if we don’t want to experience a second wave of the disease.
“It is important to put in place the right understanding for the reasons to request and where to source a COVID-19 test. If you are displaying symptoms within the case definition of COVID-19, you can get a free test at any of the four designated COVID-19 public health laboratories or get a sample taken at any of our LCDA sample collection centers.
“However, if you require testing for any other reason such as occupational related requirements or simple curiosity, then you may visit any of the 10 accredited private laboratories or book a test online on the portal or the national portal specific for travelers.
“Therefore, it is important that we continually oversee this process because COVID-19 is a public health threat and the process of ensuring that people get tested as at when they need it and how it is being done is strictly controlled.
“You would recall that we recently suspended COVID-19 testing in one of the 10 accredited private laboratories due to some concerns around quality assurance. “The laboratory has gone through a revalidation process and has now been allowed to recommence testing. This is part of the supportive oversight functions of the Government through the Lagos State Biobank.”
He said government would continue to ensure that testing and isolation, if required, continued to be accessible and free to citizens as required.
Reacting last night, the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, urged Nigerians to be prepared for a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
In a telephone conversation, NMA President, Prof Innocent Ujah, told newsmen that preparedness was important because a second wave of new infections in the country could not be ruled out.
Ujah, who gave the warning on the heels of the alert by the Lagos State Government about the possibility of a second lock-down, called for strict compliance with the safety protocol as provided by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.
“I have been saying that there is likelihood of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has to be based on epidemiology and must be scientific. The second wave may come and it may not come; we have to be prepared.
“What we should be doing now is to keep practising the NCDC protocol, that is, wearing of face masks, proper hand washing with soap and water, use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers and social distancing,” he noted.
Lamenting the low level of compliance with the the non-medical safety guide-lines, Ujah called on the National Orientation Agency, NOA, to inten-sify its public awareness drive. He said: “Many Nigerians still do not believe that COVID-19 exists, and this is partly responsible for the low level of compliance with the NCDC safety protocol. We need to create more public awareness, and education, and the National Orientation Agency has a major role to play in this respect.
“We have to continue testing ourselves and also comply with the laid down infection prevention and control guidelines while the NCDC should continue to carry the messages of compliance with the safety protocol to all Nigerians.”