*To fumigate all schools, gives conditions for re-opening
*Patients not infectious after 10 days
*Over 1,100 Nigerians evacuated as FG suspends operations
*Future evacuees won’t be quarantined
*Supports INEC on e-Voting
The Federal Government said claims by some local researchers that they have developed a cure for Covid-19 have fallen flat in the face of scientific investigations, saying out of the 19 claims subjected to validation protocols by the Federal Ministry of Health, only three passed preliminary stages and worthy of further investigations.
The federal government also added that it has been deliberating on the need to reopen schools, promising that safety measures would be put in place before such a decision is taken.
This was disclosed Wednesday in Abuja during the daily briefing of the Presidential Taskforce PTF on Covid-19.
The PTF also restated its earlier decision to redefine the country’s case management system in the light of new research outcomes indicating that the virus is no longer infectious after 10 days of administering treatments to patients.
It expressed support to the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC on its decision to work with relevant stakeholders to pilot the introduction of electronic voting in 2021.
The government also gave conditions for the reopening of schools, saying it would fumigate all of them in collaboration with the sub-national entities.
Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha noted that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation was faced with the challenge of out of school children, adding that this has now been compounded by the compelling need for closure of schools as part of the measures to limit the spread of the virus.
He said; “The PTF wishes to use the occasion of this Children’s Day celebration to congratulate our children and assure them, their parents and all stakeholders alike, that all hands are on deck to reopen the schools at a safe time. We therefore use this medium to urge States, local governments, proprietors and other stakeholders to begin to take steps that will facilitate an early and safe reopening”.
Mustapha noted that the subject of research has been central to the mandate, thinking and planning of the PTF, but said out of the numerous local drug claims evaluated, only three passed the preliminary stages.
He said; “As a measure of the importance attached to research and development of local capacity for finding a cure to the COVID-19, the Federal Ministry of Health held a virtual meeting with a number of researchers and scientists with claims to cure for COVID 19 and out of the numerous claimants, three were found to deserve further investigation and have been forwarded to the relevant authorities for appropriate review.
“Similarly, efforts are being made by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to subject a good number of locally manufactured COVID 19 equipment to verification and subsequent certification”.
The PTF appreciated the lower rate of transmission and case fatalities in Africa but added that countries in the region need to progressively increase their capacity to detect cases, not just to know the extent of the outbreak, but also to identify and initiate care for people most at risk.
“They also need to expand the capacity to mitigate the implications of widespread community transmission of COVID-19.
“Above all, more research to determine the underlying factors for the current trend in the pandemic in Africa is needed. In addition to pursuing this line of thought, the occurrences in Kano and some other cities have given us cause to launch our research initiatives using existing structures and systems in a manner that will build a legacy and also prepare Nigeria for any future pandemic.
“The PTF is happy to note that the Central Bank of Nigeria has indicated the willingness to support research efforts. This is, therefore, a call on our researchers and scientists to take up the challenge” Mustapha stated.
The SGF added that, “as Nigeria progresses into the closing days of the extension of the eased lockdown (Phase 1), I wish to assure all Nigerians that the Muhammadu Buhari Administration feels the economic pains they are passing through and it is for this reason that beyond the number of stimulus packages especially for citizens that rely on daily subsistence, the gradual opening up of the economy is also a strategy in preparing for a POST-COVID economy”.
Mustapha said e-Voting would help to reduce the cost of conducting elections, saying since the 1980s there have been debates as to the possibility of adopting the system in the country.
Making reference to a policy document released by INEC earlier in the week, the SGF said it is good that even the electoral umpire is thinking along that line.
He said; “Yes, that is the future. Whether we like it or not, we must begin to make preparations going in that direction”.
Mustapha also spoke on the report by the Food and Agricultural Organization FAO about the possible invasion of locusts in some parts of the country, explaining that the Federal Executive Council FEC had since March 11 approved a ₦13.9 billion contract, with a component of it designed to control such invasion.
Also speaking, Minister of State, Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora disclosed that he had chaired the virtual meeting with several traditional and complementary medicine practitioners as of last Thursday.
He said; “There are global efforts to find a cure for the disease and Nigeria is part of that effort. We have received a few proposals for local remedies for the disease and these have been forwarded to the relevant agencies for evaluation. For preparation to be approved for use in Nigeria, it must be subjected to safety, toxicological and efficacy tests as well as clinical trials.
19 Local drugs Claim
“Last week, I led the Federal Ministry of Health team to a virtual meeting with Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Practitioners to discuss and explore opportunities for local solutions to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“The meeting provided an opportunity for the practitioners to understand the procedures for validating medicines for use in the country. We were also able to find common grounds for collaboration. The government will support every genuine effort aimed at finding local solutions to the pandemic.
“On what transpired last Thursday, we had 19 traditional and herbal practitioners in attendance. Five of them were physically present at the conference centre where we had the engagement and others were online. Of course, in attendance were the heads of the various and relevant agencies like NAFDAC, NIMR, NIPRD, the president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Academics, Chairman of Ethics Committee and other stakeholders.
“What we did was to ask each of those present, that is, the traditional medical practitioners to name their products and tell us at what stage they were, whether they have been listed with NAFDAC because that is the first stage. NAFDAC will have to determine its fitness for human consumption.
“Its fitness, not its efficacy and not clinical trial. So, knowing those that had registered with NAFDAC and those who had not and of course what the remedy claims to do, whether it has to do with the remission of symptoms or the shortening of the period of hospitalisation or whether it is to achieve cure.
“And then we asked each of them to state the challenges. At the end of the interaction, what came out essentially was that one, practitioners still have issues regarding the procedure for getting listed with NAFDAC. Two, the issue of protection of intellectual property rights.
“Every one of them was scared that how were they sure that somebody would not go behind to patent their own intellectual property? So, they needed to be assured that that would not happen. That there will be an agreement to be signed on to.
Traditional Medicine Wards in Hospitals
“Three is the issue of funding because each of these processes require funding. The other issue they came up with was a request to have traditional medicine wards to exist side by side with orthodox medicine wards which are not really strange. It is happening in Ghana. It is happening in some other countries like China and so on. Then there was a request to fast track some of these processes.
“They also asked how they can get patients who would volunteer themselves for trials. These were the challenges that we observed as put across to us and we are taking these further and we are working to see how we can fast track the processes without under-cutting anything.
“While we are anxious to find a cure for the disease, the Federal Government will not compromise the health of any Nigerian. We are not prepared to do trial and error with the health of our people. Whatever is approved for use in Nigeria must meet the required standard as determined by the relevant agencies”.
Conditions for re-opening of schools
Minister of State, Education, Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba dismissed reports that schools would be reopened on June 8, adding that until pupils and students can go to school and return safely without getting themselves infected and infecting others, the institutions would remain close.
While he urged heads of schools to begin to look at how the schools can operate even during the pandemic, the minister said, “we want all our children to come into schools by the time they (schools) would have done physical distancing”.
He said while universities may have to design their lectures in ways that not every student will be in school, he said as for the secondary schools, the Senior Secondary Three and Junior Secondary Three students would resume first to write their final examinations before other classes would resume.
According to him, primary schools may have to operate morning and afternoon shifts to avoid overcrowding.”We are also looking at sanitary conditions in the schools. We intend to fumigate all and ask that SUBEB in the states use the money we give them to put fumigation logistic cabin place, have foot pedalled handwashing machines and sanitization booths which we are recommending that everyone (school) gets.
“It will help people to go into schools, disinfect themselves as they go in and also disinfect themselves as they go out. This is a forewarning to private schools and state governments that the only condition in which we are going to reopen anywhere is that these children can go in safely and come out safely.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama on his part explained that the three planes sent by the United Kingdom to evacuate its nationals in Nigeria would not be able to come along with Nigerians in the country who are hoping to return.
While he said the plan of the ministry is to use local airlines to evacuate Nigerians in diaspora, he added that the corporate community in Nigeria has concluded plans to establish a testing unit at the airport.
He said; “essentially, we will have a situation soon, thanks to Dangote and others, where we will have testing units at the airport and so anybody that is going to be evacuated would first undergo a test at least five to nine days before departing for Nigeria. That is the pre-flight test. Arriving in Nigeria, their passports would be taken and their samples taken too at the airport and they will be allowed to go home unlike before when we used to quarantine them. Of course, the test results would one out in a day or two and those who are positive would be taken in for treatment”.
Onyeama disclosed that the ministry has been asked to suspend the evacuation of Nigerians in the diaspora, pending the take-off of the new policy on testing at points of arrival.
According to him, about 1, 000 Nigerians have been evacuated so far in addition to over 100 that were brought in through land borders.
Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu on his part said Nigeria would continue to be open to researches, saying the Covid-19 continues to present new manifestations.
According to him, new pieces of evidence suggest that patients who are undergoing treatment become non-infectious after at most 10 days.
He also placed the net cost of conducting a Covid-19 test in Nigeria at $20 but added that there are other costs that could shoot up the figure.