Executive Director, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, Mr Jacques Liao, in this interview with ADELANI ADEPEGBA, speaks on the impact of the COVID-19 on projects being handled by CCECC and the opposition to the visit of 14 Chinese doctors by health professionals in the country
Why did CCECC invite the Chinese medical team to Nigeria?
We are in the same boat with Nigerians. We are based here and if anything happens in Nigeria, we would also be affected. We have over 15,000 workers in Nigeria and of course we don’t want bad things to happen. The medical team came with the equipment to assist with their installation, to offer consultations and share experience. If you have been following the news, most of the reports about substandard medical supply from China are the result of wrong application.
We are in an uncharted territory; many medical professionals are not yet familiar with some of the equipment, especially the test kits. If you recall, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control was one of the 10 persons invited by the World Health Organisation to China to get first-hand experience on what China did to curb the coronavirus. It is helpful, seeing is believing. The team did not travel to the United States, they did not go to the United Kingdom, or other European countries, they went to China, because China had the most experience in fighting the virus. The medical team can also share experience, if so required. We couldn’t have just imported the medical supply with no personnel to advise on their use or to answer questions when needed.
Why do you think the NMA is against the Chinese doctors?
I believe it is due to misunderstanding and misinformation, if I can say that. On the Internet, Twitter and other social media, people have read that China sent some doctors or China sent contaminated kits to some places and positive cases are coming out because of that. I don’t know why they think so. First, the virus is not man-made. China would not have had so many people dying; we cannot be killing ourselves.
Two, have they asked the French or Spanish governments, instead of listening to unverifiable sources, whether people are really testing positive on account of the kits and masks supplied by China? That is why we need to be objective. I think the medical technology in European countries is not lower than what it is in China. Why have they not complained publicly, officially about the kits? Why did death increase so much in other countries like the UK, the US or Germany which did not accept anything from China? If the cases in Nigeria become serious, are you going to attribute them to the arrival of the doctors? There is no direct link, it is all mischief.
We invited them because they have experience in China, where there are more than 80,000 cases and so far, more than 94 per cent has been discharged. They know how to treat to avoid minimum loss and that is why we invited them to Nigeria. It took China more than one month to get a handle on this virus. We have released the gene sequences to the public to allow everybody to study it and find a solution. They are not here to treat any COVID-19 patients. The medical team may offer consultations and advice if so requested especially in the deployment of the medical supplies.
Would you say Chinese firms are benefiting from the pandemic going by the huge demand for masks and other kits?
It is not economic. It is more a humanitarian effort to contain the outbreak. China needs a healthy and prosperous world as much as the world needs China. We all have a shared future. Moreover, medical supplies from China these trying times are towards humanitarian efforts and when they are sold, it is at regular prices, they did not hike their prices. Nobody is benefiting from the pandemic; looking at the GDP growth of each country in the first quarter, you would know there is trouble. In China, it was over six per cent, but now, it has dropped a lot. In some countries, it is in the negative territory. January, February, even most time of March, everybody stayed at home, there was no production. This has significant impact on the global economy. Do you know that during the Chinese Spring festival, restaurants prepared many types of foods, but they went bad because nobody went out, everyone was under lockdown? For the medium and small scale enterprises, there was no production, no income, but they need to pay the house rent and basic salary, so most of them became bankrupt. As a matter of fact, nobody is benefiting from this pandemic.
Do you suspect that your workers have the coronavirus?
We don’t have. Based on advisory, we have been very vigilant and adopted strict regulations within all our facilities long ago to prevent and detect any case. We have drawn from the experiences in China, we know how to avoid the disease by adhering to strict regulations like always wearing face masks, hand washing, distancing, disinfecting common areas in our facilities, among others. We also monitor everyone’s temperature by infra-red thermometer twice daily. If any case should arise within our facilities, we would spot it immediately and report to appropriate authorities.
You said in a statement that the Chinese doctors might test or treat your members of staff; don’t you have confidence in Nigerian doctors?
No, it is not like that. You know the capacity of tests in Nigeria is limited and we don’t want to impose on or use the limited resources available. As I said, we have been in Nigeria for almost 40 years. France, the US and the UK are sending their people back to their countries, but we did not do that. Let me use the analogy: It is like having two generators in your house; one is in use, one is standing by. You don’t want the standby generator to work unless the first one has some problems. I am very concerned about the cases in Lagos and Abuja. Nobody wants them (Chinese doctors) to treat us. Whatever they brought here, at the end of the day, it would be used here. They are not here to treat Nigerians, they are not here to make any comment on what is happening.
How would you assess Nigeria’s efforts at containing COVID-19?
Of course, they have tried a lot. In Lagos, so many people have been treated and discharged. If the number of patients will not increase exponentially they can treat them gradually, and we do hope that everyone would get well and be discharged, but if there is incoming and outgoing (of travellers), cases may spike and community transmission may increase. That is why there is the need to take strong measures to contain the influx of people into the country and everyone should cooperate with government by obeying the stay-at-home order.
In the US, the UK and Italy, they have a very advanced healthcare system and strong Intensive Care Unit, but even at that, hundreds of people are dying every day. Why? It is because the ICUs are not enough. We need ICUs, we need ventilators. The people who cannot access these things would have to wait and may not survive. That is why we don’t want this to happen in Nigeria like in other countries. We need to contain the influx of new cases so that the medical resources can sustain those in the country.
What has the lockdown cost your company?
Critical infrastructural projects have been stalled and delivery dates would be extended. We have to obey government’s directives on lockdown. We were forced to reduce the number of our workers so that they would not be infected and we paid them because they cannot work at sites on account of the lockdown and social distancing guidelines.
With the situation on the ground, how long will it take to complete the Lagos-Ibadan rail line?
On 28 of March, just last week, we completed laying the double tracks to Ebute Meta and of course, we ought to continue laying the track to Apapa port but because of this outbreak of COVID-19, we had to change our plan. We have written to the Ministry of Transportation and of course, they understand that we have to suspend work for safety and security of lives and that is why we have to work together with the government to fight against COVID-19.