Says increasing confirmed cases overwhelming available bed spaces
The chairman of the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19, and secretary to the government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha on Friday, the last daily media briefing for the week, announced stricter measures to compel compliance with rules and guidelines for combating the coronavirus disease pandemic in the country as Nigerians continued to brazenly breach the rules following the easing of the total lockdown barely a week ago. In his opening remarks, the PTF chairman described as “robust, comprehensive and all- inclusive”, the national response being pursued by the Federal Government to contain and curtail the spread of the virus.
The director-general of the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu also painted a grim picture of how the country is becoming overwhelmed with the increasing number of confirmed cases, particularly in Lagos, Kano, and Zamfara States, compared to available bed spaces such that it is now considering other options it hitherto would not have considered.
Mustapha who said following the intensification of monitoring of the level of compliance with the advisories and guidelines already issued by the Task Force lamented that “The outcome of our surveillance still points to the fact that violations are still very rampant; and as I have always pointed out, it portends not only danger, but it is a very dangerous trend”. He said the PTF had been consulting with the security agencies and arrived at the conclusion that “strict enforcement should be adopted”. He then went ahead to reel out new measures as agreed with the security chiefs.
“One, to strengthen enforcement in collaboration with the states; two, all exempted persons, including journalists and medical personnel should always carry a verifiable and authentic means of identification. Three, security agencies should improve monitoring of their personnel and interaction with the citizens. Four, citizens should respect the sacrificial role of security agencies and desist from assaulting security personnel and damaging security infrastructure. Five, appropriate PPE and related protective gears will be provided for the security personnel. Six, security agencies should always respect the fundamental rights of citizens during enforcement. Seven, enlightenment and awareness should be intensified at all levels. And lastly, eight, if need be, revisit the strategies on the basis of partial compliance”.
The SGF insisted that the measures taken were not punitive; “rather, they are to save our lives and prevent the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 among our beloved ones, and within our communities”. Asserting that Nigeria is presently at the community transmission phase, he mentioned that on Thursday May 7, 2020, the country witnessed the highest single day number of 381 confirmed cases According to him, “This could be considered worrisome but for the fact that this rise is associated with our increased testing capacity which has provided opportunity to detect hitherto hidden cases”. He was however quick to add that “this increased testing does not translate to higher fatality rates as in the last few days, we have witnessed a good number of discharges and a continual reducing daily fatality rate”.
He said the PTF had also received reports from the state governments which suggested that the treatment centres were running out of bed spaces. The SGF said in view of this development, “the Presidential Task Force shall also begin to examine our peculiar circumstances, modify the strategies for cure management, and consider viable alternatives where necessary”. He said at the appropriate time, the guidelines and protocols shall be unfolded, adding that the Task Force was liaising with the Task Force on Movement of Agricultural Produce under the leadership of the minister of Agriculture and rural development “in order to ensure that food scarcity is not experienced in any part of the country”. He emphasised that another objective of this collaboration was also “to minimize the abuse of the exemption granted for the movement of goods under these guidelines”.
Expressing misgiving on the issue of bed capacity, NCDC boss stated unequivocally that “Where we are, we have a big challenge across the country right now especially in Lagos, Kano, Zamfara, a few states where the number of new cases is outweighing the capacity to continue implementing our policy of institutional isolation of all the cases whether you are asymptomatic, mildly symptomatic, or severe, which is the current policy. But right now, the reality we are facing is that the implementation of that policy is very difficult”.
According to Ihekweazu, “Yesterday, we confirmed 158 new cases in Lagos. It means that by today if we are to follow that policy, Lagos has to find 158 new bed spaces – in a single day! And I can tell you for free, that this evening, we will have another set of new cases confirmed in Lagos. So, this is the reality. No country has found it easy across the world; to increase its hospital space capacity by 300, 400, 500 percent which is what is required response to this outbreak using the current policy. So, we are considering other options, and over the next few days, we will share these options with you.
“This is not because these are options we like to consider; but they are options that we are forced into considering. So, the reality is that at the moment a good number of all our patients are not in the institutions in isolation centres because we are struggling with capacity across the country and I really empathise with the state governments; they are working so hard not only to provide the facilities, you have to feed, you have to provide security, basic infrastructure. So, it’s not simple”. Ihekweazu said they also have plans for two million test kits over the next three months that are already in the procurement process, “not from the Federal government, but with all our UN partners that are coming to the table support us”.