Nigeria had been spared for 57 days when the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, also called COVID-19, was first recorded in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019.
Even as the disease ravaged China and Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as America and Europe, infecting thousands of people, Africa’s most populous country was a mere spectator.
But the story changed for Nigeria on February 27, 2020 when a 44-year-old Italian businessman who arrived in Lagos from Milan, Italy tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Italian, a consultant for Lafarge Africa Plc, was among 149 passengers aboard a Turkish Airlines flight which arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport on February 25.
He reportedly lodged at a hotel in Lagos that night and left the following morning for a business meeting at the Lafarge’s factory in Ewekoro, Ogun State.
According to the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, the patient started to develop symptoms of high fever and body pains on February 26 and was transferred to the Lagos State Biosecurity Facilities for isolation and testing.
The Italian was tested positive for COVID-19 at the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
He has since been in quarantine at the Infectious Disease Centre at Yaba, Lagos, and health authorities said he was now clinically stable.
The commissioner later said the Lagos and Ogun state governments were tracing the patient’s 148 co-passengers, adding that another 39 persons the victim made contact with at the Lafarge’s Ewekoro plant were quarantined.
By Friday, the Ogun State Commissioner for Health, Dr Tomi Coker, said the 39 persons on quarantine had not developed any symptoms of COVID-19.
Coker said this while leading a team to the Redemption Camp of the Redeemed Christian Church of God along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
Also, Abayomi, at a briefing on Thursday said the Italian was responding to treatment and would be released when he would no longer be a threat to other members of society.
Abayomi said, “The Italian has been with us for one week now; his clinical situation is quite stable, the symptoms are dramatically resolving; so, we are expectant that we will continue to make this kind of progress.
“Sometime over the weekend, he developed a respiratory symptom, and we initiated some therapy in the form of anti-viral, which are not curative, but just to make it easier for his immune system to fight the infection. He seems to have responded to that; so we are keeping him on that and there are no side effects.”
However, the commissioner said the patient was suffering from depression as he was the only person in the ward and had few visitors because his family was not in Nigeria.
The commissioner added that 146 of the patient’s co-passengers had been identified except for two passengers onboard the Turkish Airlines who were still missing.
As of Friday, over 101,000 coronavirus cases have been recorded, with over 3,400 deaths. Around 56,000 patients have, however, recovered. China is the most hit country with more than 80,000 cases.
COVID-19 has now affected 95 countries and territories around the world and one international conveyance – the Diamond Princess cruise ship harboured in Yokohama, Japan.
Already, governments, pharmaceutical companies and scientists are racing to find a vaccine for the disease.
The Italian connection
Meanwhile, Nigeria was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to record a coronavirus case, and when it did, findings showed that it joined the league of about 17 countries which, surprisingly, did not import the disease from China-related travels, but from Italy, the hotspot of the outbreak in Europe.
Italy is the fourth most hit country by COVID-19, with over 4,600 cases as of Friday, after China, South Korea and Iran. Italy also recorded total deaths of 49 on Friday alone, totalling 197 deaths so far. About 778 new cases were also newly recorded on Friday.
Apart from Nigeria, other countries where infection cases seem to be all related to Italian citizens or travels are Mexico, Wales, Northern Ireland, France, Croatia, Switzerland, Algeria, Spain, Brazil, Greece, Finland, North Macedonia, Germany, Romania, Denmark, Lithuania, and the United Arab Emirates.
An Italian online newspaper, open.online, stated that almost all recent cases of contagion in Europe and beyond came from Italy.
For example, on February 28, the Mexican Ministry of Health confirmed that its first case of coronavirus was a 34-year-old man who returned from northern Italy a few days before.
Also, the first infection in Northern Ireland and Wales in the United Kingdom were both on people from northern Italy.
In Croatia, the first coronavirus case concerned a young man who stayed in Milan, Italy in mid-February.
The first case recorded in Switzerland on February 25 was a 70-year-old man who had recently travelled to the Milanese area in Italy.
When Algeria also recorded its first case on February 25, it was on an Italian citizen who arrived in the country eight days earlier.
In Spain where eight people first tested positive under 36 hours, they were all Italian citizens and travellers.
The first patient in Brazil was also a man who had returned from Italy after a business trip on February 21.
When Greece announced its first case of coronavirus, it was a woman who had recently travelled to northern Italy.
Finland’s first case was a Chinese tourist from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus, but its second case was a woman who had travelled to northern Italy.
In North Macedonia, the first case of coronavirus positivity was a Macedonian woman who had returned from Italy after a long stay.
One of Germany’s first cases was a man who had also returned from Italy.
In Romania, the first case of coronavirus recorded on February 27 was a 20-year-old who worked in an Italian-owned restaurant. The restaurateur was later quarantined in his home together with his seven family members.
Likewise, in Denmark, the first case was a man who had returned from Italy with his family on February 24 after spending a holiday in a ski resort in Lombardy, an area in northern Italy.
The UAE’s first coronavirus cases were two Italians who were staff members of the UAE Tour, a road cycling stage race.
Similarly, Lithuania’s first recorded case was a woman who returned from Verona, northern Italy on February 24.
In Nice, France, the first case of coronavirus was a woman who had returned from Milan, Italy.
An Italian Catholic professor and member of the World Health Organisations Executive Council, Walter Ricciardi, blamed the outbreak in Italy on the government’s unpreparedness.
“We pay for the fact that we did not immediately quarantine the landers from China,” open.online quoted Ricciardi as saying.
The don said, “We closed the flights, a decision that has no scientific basis, and this did not allow us to trace the arrivals, because at that point we were able to stop and arrive from other places.”
Ricciardi added that one of the reasons the coronavirus had affected the country greatly was because the “appropriate practices have not been put in place, in addition to the fact that the virus is very contagious.”
Meanwhile, as all confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 seem to be from people or travellers from Italy, some countries and multinationals have restricted their citizens and employees from travelling to Italy.
For instance, the United States has raised the alert against Italy to level 3, which means Americans are recommended to reconsider all travel to the country due to the coronavirus emergency. The US issued a similar warning against China and South Korea.
The United Kingdom, Israel, Australia, Hong Kong, Lebanon and others have also issued a similar travel advisory against Italy.
In a similar vein, Malaysia and Singapore have barred entry to travellers from Italy.
Also, organisations such as Apple, British Airways and Harvard have warned their employees against travel to Italy.
However, Nigeria has yet to come up with any travel advisory against Italy, except China, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
On Friday, the European Union health ministers held emergency talks on the response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has swept through nearly all its 27 member states, with observers saying Europe lacked preparedness to the disease outbreak.
More than two months since first known cases were reported in China, the number of confirmed infections reached more than 5,500 in EU member states on Friday.
Nigeria will approach IMF for share of $50bn funding –FG
In the meantime, the Federal Government on Friday said it would approach the International Monetary Fund to access its share of the $50bn funding for countries hit by coronavirus.
The IMF on Thursday said the coronavirus outbreak had pushed this year’s global economic growth below last year’s levels.
Speaking during a briefing addressed by the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, in Abuja on updates on coronavirus, the Permanent Secretary at the ministry, Abdulahi Mashi, said so far, Nigeria had relied on government and donors’ funding to tackle COVID-19.
Mashi said, “So far, we have relied on domestic funding. The funding announced by the IMF and World Bank is intervention from them but the guideline to access the money is not yet developed.
“We will be getting in touch with them to see how we can access the fund. Donors and partners have met with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to see how they can support Nigeria.”
N1.6bn budgeted in first 28 days of preparation –NCDC
Also at the briefing, the Deputy Director, Special Duties, NCDC, Dr Precillia Ibekwe, said the centre budgeted N1.67bn for the first 28 days of preparation, with businessman, Aliko Dangote, contributing N200m.
She said, “For the first 28 days, we have a budget of about N1.67bn to handle COVID-19 response. We have spoken to our local and international partners and we will continue to have the conversation.
“Aliko Dangote donated N200m. Some of the partners’ contributions are already put to use in our response at the airport. We will continue to collate distributions and make them available.”
At the briefing, the minister of health said the government was still following 61 contacts of the index case (Italian that was diagnosed with the virus) with 21 in Lagos and 40 in Ogun State.
Ehanire said out of the 148 passengers on the index case flight to Nigeria, 55 were actively being followed and that the NCDC, Port Health Services as well as the Federal Ministry of Health were in touch with them to monitor their temperatures and possible appearance of symptoms of COVID-19.
He added that none had presented coronavirus symptoms.
He, however, called on anyone on the Turkish Airlines flight that had not been reached to self-isolate and contact the NCDC.
Asked if Nigeria would follow in the footsteps of China which has banned the sale and consumption of bush meat, the minister said although coronavirus was zootic in nature, there was no plan to place a blanket ban on bush meat in Nigeria.
Three quarantined persons tested negative –LASG
Abayomi has said the three people in isolation at the Infectious Disease Centre, Yaba have tested negative for coronavirus.
Abayomi said via his Twitter handle, @ProfAkinAbayomi, “All the three #COVID19 suspected cases; travellers from France, England and China whose samples were collected yesterday (Thursday) for analysis have tested negative and they have been discharged.”
Abayomi had announced three suspected cases in isolation at the Infectious Disease Centre, Yaba.
One of the suspected patients was a Nigerian who returned from France on Monday after spending seven days in the European country.
FG agency produces hand sanitiser to address shortage
In order to tackle the coronavirus, the Director-General, National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, Dr Obi Adigwe, said the agency had produced hand sanitiser to address shortage of the imported product and the hike in its price.
Adigwe stated this during the press briefing addressed by the minister of health on Friday.
He said, “One of the global fallout of the recent disease outbreak is the disruption in the supply chain of various commodities that are relevant to controlling the outbreak. These disruptions are caused by panic buying or genuine shortage. Nigeria is not left out of this phenomenon.
“As part of our preparedness, the institute was mandated by the health minister to put in place various activities that would ensure that we could start addressing shortages and supply chain disruptions. Based on the mandate, NIPRD went ahead to undertake research and product development activities.”
Adigwe said Nigerians had been complaining of the shortage and increase in price of hand sanitiser, which geared it to manufacture the product.
Ehanire, however, said the product and similar ones would first be presented to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control for certification, hoping that this would be done as quickly as possible to meet the demand by Nigerians.
NAFDAC fears over shortage of raw materials
In the meantime, the Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof Moji Adeyeye, on Friday said the outbreak of coronavirus in China had left Nigeria in a dangerous situation regarding the supply of raw materials for drug production.
However, she said the situation had presented Nigeria the opportunity to develop capacity to produce raw materials for the production of drugs.
Speaking at the 4th annual university lecture during the 5th matriculation ceremony of Kings University, Ode Omu, Osun State, Adeyeye lamented Nigeria’s overdependence on foreign nations, especially China, for the supply of drugs, as well as raw materials for drug production.
She said, “What is happening now regarding coronavirus should be a wake-up call to Nigeria. We cannot continue to depend on other countries to supply our raw materials.
“We have food, but we don’t have enough raw materials for drug production. Now that China is having issues with coronavirus and it has spread all over the world, it has left Nigeria hanging.”
Onne Port may get holding centre to combat coronavirus
There are indications that the Nigerian Ports Authority, Onne, Rivers State may soon have a holding centre as part of measures to combat the novel coronavirus.
The Port Manager, Alhassan Abubakar, told journalists in Onne on Friday that a delegation from the Federal Ministry of Heath had asked for a place for a holding centre, where any crew member suspected to have coronavirus would be temporarily kept.
Abubakar said any person suspected to have the disease would later be moved from the holding centre to the quarantine centre in the state.
He added that apart from the plan to establish a holding centre, the Onne Port management had already deployed protective materials like hand sanitiser, temperature gauge and others to the port.
By: Olufemi Atoyebi, Chukwudi Akasike, Jesusegun Alagbe, Dayo Ojerinde and Bola Bamigbola