Nigerians were on Thursday alerted to brace for a rise in COVID-19 cases as a result of the easing of the lockdown.
Health Minister Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who flashed the yellow card at a briefing by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 Control in Abuja, said more cases of the virus should be expected, following the lifting of the ban on interstate travels.
He cautioned Nigerians not to assume it has become safe to move about yet.
According to him, stakeholders should take advantage of the four-week extension of the second phase of easing the lockdown as approved by President Muhammadu Buhari to review the strategy and assess the effectiveness of measures in place.
The minister said: “The number of COVID-19 positive cases is increasing dramatically in Nigeria, but also globally, as news reports show. Our strategy uses the statistics to calibrate response, but also address the concerns of citizens.
“The ratio of male to female among the infected has remained quite stable at 70 per cent to 30 per cent. While majority of the infected cases are below 50 years, majority of the fatalities are over 50 years old.
“This rising trend requires that each state of the federation continues to prepare more bed spaces and increase sample collection sites, as well as improve logistics to deliver to designated laboratories promptly. It is also important to protect the vulnerable by putting in place measures which take care of their social needs and reduce their exposure to risks of infection.”
Warning that no emergency should be denied attention in hospitals even if it means admitting on a stretcher or examination couch to give life-saving oxygen, Ehanire hinted that all government-run hospitals in the Federal Capital Territory will henceforth serve as COVID-19 sample collection centres.
The measure became necessary to reduce the bottlenecks to testing and improve efficiency in response, he said.
Ehanire said: “The COVID-19 statistics are expected to rise further with improved testing, but also as a sign that COVID-19 is actually expanding faster than our systems are handing it.
“The Federal Ministry of Health’s plan will be to focus more on minimising fatalities by prioritising preemptive admission to hospital for medical observation, all persons who test positive for COVID-19 and meet our definition of vulnerability, even if they do not yet have classical symptoms.
“These include the elderly, diabetics, asthmatics and persons in treatment for chronic infections and conditions. This population group will also be targeted for risk communication and engagement to avoid nonessential travel and exposure to risk factors outside the home.
“All countries, including Nigeria, rely heavily on the cooperation and collaboration with citizens, especially in implementing simple non-pharmaceutical measures, like wearing face masks when outside the house, avoiding crowds and gatherings of more than 20 people and simple hygiene measures, which have been proven to reduce risks of transmission.
“The success or lack thereof, of response is therefore a factor, not just of national, but also of subnational and citizen efforts. Hence the need to again call on all States, LGAs and communities, to know they have a critical role to play and that their engagement matters.
“With the lifting of the ban on interstate travel, the assumption should not be that danger is over and it is safe to move about.
“The risks of being infected are higher during travel, so I strongly advise we do not embark on non-essential travel. This is particularly so for the elderly and those designated as high risk.
“Many countries made adherence to rules not only mandatory; some even imposed penalties for non-compliance. The exploding figures we see now would be considerably less if most citizens complied.
“The benefits of compliance are such that we should each and all, be encouraging each other and ensuring that we obey and remind others to obey, without requiring policing. It is a citizen responsibility and not just government’s. We can save lives by enduring the little inconvenience of wearing a mask and avoiding travel that need not be.”
The minister assured that his ministry will address complaints by both citizens and hospital managers about long delays in receiving COVID-19 test results at treatment centers in Abuja.
He said: “I have directed the deployment and activation of GeneXpert machines to treatment centers at National Hospital Abuja and University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, so that they can now conduct testing on site. The GeneXpert machine allows results within one hour.
“Over the last few days, I have also received reports of very sick persons being rejected at our hospitals. Many have died outside or on the way, having been denied attention in more than one hospital.
“In addition to this, all government hospitals in FCT will become COVID-19 sample collection sites, so that walk-in cases can have samples taken to be forwarded to Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for testing.
“This assures users and caregivers of reduced bottlenecks and improved efficiency in our response. We intend to scale this up to other states of the Federation.”