The federal government said on Thursday that its policy on self-isolation, which prescribes that people should stay at home for certain time to authenticate their COVID-19 status has failed, saying this was the reason quarantining was made compulsory for all those coming into Nigeria.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, made this known on Thursday in Abuja during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
He specifically made reference to people especially those coming into the country by air, land or sea, saying there were many COVID-19 cases from such persons.
Newsmen recalled that Nigeria’s index case was recorded on February 27, almost a month after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
Earlier on January 11, China reported the first novel coronavirus related death of a 61-year-old man who had visited the animal market in Wuhan.
During the time under review, thousands of people came to Nigeria by air, land or sea and after preliminary checks at their point of entry, they were allowed to go home and observe self -isolation.
However, most of them reportedly flouted this advisory even though they came into Nigeria from countries that recorded many coronavirus cases.
Some of the travellers later turned out positive with health experts saying this “lapses” had to greater extent paved the way for the transmission of the virus to those close to the suspected cases and at the same time aggravated community transmission which Nigeria is now battling to stop.
As of Wednesday, May 6, Nigeria had 3,145 confirmed cases with 103 deaths from COVID-19, while 534 people have recovered. The cases were recorded in 34 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The National Publicity Secretary of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (ALMSN), Dr. Casmir Ifeanyi, said the self- isolation protocol deployed by the federal ministry of health and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) at the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country was designed to fail from the beginning because it did not take into cognisance the undisciplined nature of the human species where impunity is the demonstration of how rugged or powerful people think they are.
He said the federal government stipulated that those with travel history abroad should self -isolate, but that many of those with the travel history were the bigwigs in the country who refused to self-isolate.
He said: “Rather, they mingled with politicians and the populace and even travelled to other states to meet with governors and attended social gatherings.”
Dr. Casmir said if people had been quarantined on arrival from the beginning, the country would not have had the outcome it has now.
“So, the self-isolation policy is a self -defeatist policy. The quarantine policy is better and all -encompassing, but to implement it, government must ensure there is no duplicity and that it must be self -cutting. It should be sacrosanct for all irrespective of who you are and not discriminatory,” he said.
“In order to curb the incidence of such cases coming in and forming clusters of new infections across the country, the provision of self-isolation has now been replaced with quarantining of returnees on arrival,” the health minister said.
According to him, “The policy we have now is that anybody arriving Nigeria from anywhere whether by air, land or by sea will go into quarantine for 14 days. During those 14 days, they will be observed for any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 disease. They will be tested at the beginning and at the end.
“We don’t have a provision for isolation at home. At the very beginning, we had that provision that if you came in and did not have a symptom, you isolate at home. Since then, all the cases we are dealing with now came in and multiplied. In order to reduce the incidence of cases coming in and then forming clusters of new infections, the provision has now changed to what we call isolation-one or quarantine.
“Quarantine is for those who have not been confirmed or who are under isolation. If during the period, signs and symptoms show up, they will be tested. If they are positive they will go to treatment centres. If after 14 days they show no symptoms or signs and they are tested and are negative, they are free to go. That is the protocol we have now.”
“I join the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) in welcoming the first batch of Nigerian nationals, who were successfully repatriated yesterday evening to Lagos from Dubai. They have entered into mandatory supervised 14-day quarantine, in 2 designated hotels, in line with laid down protocols.
“They will be tested for COVID-19 and any person testing positive shall be invited to a treatment facility. I appeal to our returning citizens to bear with us and cooperate with authorities, especially if they perceive imperfections in our arrangements, as this is a test run, the first of these exercises,” he said.
There have been complaints by COVID-19 patients and those picked during contact tracing that they are being taken care of especially at the state level.
Earlier this week, some patients in Gombe stormed the streets in protest over alleged failure of the state government to take good care of them.
The health minister during the COVID-19 briefing on Thursday urged states government to ensure that they treat COVID-19 patients with dignity.
“I shall here also request all states to embark on preparing at least 300 bed spaces for COVID-19 isolation and treatment.
“As testing is scaled up and more persons with COVID-19 infection are identified, it is necessary that they are safely and securely isolated and treated with dignity until they test negative, to break our chain of transmission,” the minister said.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, added: “People have not committed a crime, so they are not being held in prison. So we really want to work together with everyone to ensure that we all achieve our goals.
“The security in treatment and isolation centres is the same thing like any other established organisation as security is the responsibility of the police working with the states government in that particular place.
“In certain circumstances, the states have had to increase the security in those facilities. In honesty, we don’t want to ‘securitise’ this response. We want people and organisations to take responsibilities.”