Covid-19: FG Denies Whereabouts Of Chinese Medical Team

Osagie Ehanire
Osagie Ehanire

The Federal Government has said it does not know the whereabouts of the Chinese doctors and technicians who came into the country to offer assistance to Nigeria in the Coronavirus fight.

The Health Minister, Osagie Ehanire made the shocking statement at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the containment of the COVID-19 in Abuja on Thursday came one month after the controversial arrival of the Chinese medical team.

Despite protest by some Nigerians and health workers’ groups, Osagie Ehanire, the Health Minister announced in April that the Chinese medical equipment and personnel had arrived the country to assist the government in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

But when asked specifically the whereabouts of the Chinese medical team at the daily briefing, Ehanire said: “I want to explain first of all that I think not all of them were doctors and I heard that some of them are technicians, but they are the staffers of CCECC, the Ministry of Health is not their host, so we can’t always explain what happened to them or where they are.

“There seems to be a lot of interests in these doctors but they are the staff of a company and I think they are on the company visa. So, I will be very happy if you don’t ask me about where they are because they are not really our guests in that sense. But we have been able to learn some things from them by interacting with them from their experience in their country. We shared ideas about what they did in their country in managing COVID-19.

The 15-member Chinese medical team made up of doctors, nurses, and laboratory technicians, arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on April 8, 2020, with medical equipment worth about $1.5 million, and went in for two week quarantine period according to Covid-19 protocols.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus pandemic response, PTF COVID-19, on Thursday decried the refusal of Nigeria returnees, to comply with quarantine rules.

The Secretary to the government of the Federation, SGF and Chairman of the PTF COVID-19 response team, Boss Mustapha, who stated this in Abuja at the daily briefing of the task force expressed sadness over the failure of some of the returnees to adhere with the laid down rules despite that they were well informed about the mandatory quarantine protocol.

“The PTF is saddened by the conduct of some of the returnees who fail to adhere to the conditions attached to their quarantine.

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”I strongly urge them to obey the rules in the facilities and also urge their friends and relations to recognize the contagious nature of the disease by desisting from visiting them,” Mustapha.

He said complying with those conditions “is in the interest of the visiting relation and in the overall public interest.”

The PTF Chairman who announced that the 14th May, marks the beginning of the countdown to the end of the first phase of eased lockdown, added said the PTF will continue its assessment of the level of compliance with the guidelines and the impact on slowing down the spread of COVID 19.

”In due course, we shall make further recommendations before the second phase commences.”

”I must, however, state that our initial evaluation point firmly in the direction of a high level of non-compliance which, as we have often warned, portend grave self-inflicted danger.

Mustapha reiterated that farming is part of the activities exempted from the lockdown, and re-emphasised that farmers fall within the list of exemptions and urge state governors, local government authorities and security agencies to please allow them to carry out their activities.

The PTF also applauded the resolution of the Nigeria Governors Forum to take steps to ramp up testing and provide the prescribed minimum number of bed spaces in their isolation/treatment centres, assuring them of NCDC continued technical support and standardization guidelines.

He, however, urged the States to recognize the essence of a strong partnership and always allow overarching public interest to prevail.

At the briefing, Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), said the centre has started re-thinking it’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country to improve access to vaccines and diagnostics.

The DG said the centre will begin to engage globally to also improve Nigeria’s access to therapeutics, which are all critical in the fight against the virus. He added that the centre has also begun investigations and research into the cause of the outbreak in certain parts of the country.

The DG said Nigeria may not have access to Covid-19 vaccine when developed, hence the need for the centre to restrategize and engage globally. He noted that the country does not still have access to the Human Papilloma Virus which was developed ten years, due to the cost of $50 per shot.

“So slowly we are rethinking our response at the NCDC, from trying to subdue the impact of the outbreak to one that is increasingly science-led, evidence-led, we want to dig deeper to what is driving this outbreak in certain parts of the country and use that to inform the response.

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“We have to engage globally to insist on equitable access to the vaccines when they are developed, by making a case to access this vaccine. We must engage globally to have access to diagnostics, which is one of our biggest challenges.

He said the government must fight to have more access to therapeutics and everything needed to fight this disease, this is why we need to engage globally,” Ihekweazu said.

“This is a global outbreak, so we must engage globally, that global engagement starts form science and understanding the factors driving this outbreak in Nigeria and globally,” he added.

The DG further informed that as the centre engages globally, it will also look at countries like India, Brazil and Mexico that share similar demographic with Nigeria and face similar challenges.

“In Mexico, there is a large number of health care workers affected, In Chile, intensive care has almost collapsed because capacity is been exceeded, so these are the countries that we need to look at because of the similarities in demography, population density,” he said.

Ihekweazu also informed that the centre is also beginning to focus on the research and have brought together TETFund, NUC to map out research priorities in Nigeria and how we NCDC can improve response.

He added that the centre will also activate the influenza surveillance network to have a new surveillance system that will estimate the incidence of Covid-19 in patients with respiratory infections.

Ihekweazu said Nigeria will have to learn to live with this virus for some time to come and living with it means saving lives form other diseases in the country

“We must keep our primary health care working, Keep people on antiretrovirals and we must not forget that our fragile national health insurance system needs to continue evolving. All these are extremely critical.”