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The fight against COVID-19: The journey So far

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The fight against Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), which took the better part of year 2020 is still raging, more than nine months after its emergence in the world, with many countries going into second lockdown to check its spread.

It started in Wuhan, China in late 2019 and has since spread worldwide. COVID-19 is an acronym that stands for Coronavirus Disease of 2019, as declared in a World Health Organisation (WHO) press release on Feb. 11, 2020.

Coronaviruses are common human and animal viruses first discovered in domestic poultry in the 1930s. In animals, coronaviruses cause a range of respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver, and neurologic diseases.

However, seven coronaviruses are known to cause serious infection in humans, including the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS-CoV in 2002, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS-CoV in 2012 and the current pandemic known as COVID-19 or SARS-CoV2.

In Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) confirmed an index case in Lagos State on Feb. 27, 2020. The case was an Italian citizen who worked in the country and returned from Milan, Italy, on Feb. 25, 2020.

He Italian was confirmed COVID-19 positive by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and after the patient was clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, he was managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos State.

Thereafter, the Federal Government, through the FMoH and NCDC strengthened measures to ensure the outbreak was quickly contained.

The multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group, led by the NCDC immediately activated the national Emergency Operations Centre and worked closely with Lagos State health authorities to respond to the case.

The Federal Government also set up a Coronavirus Preparedness Group to mitigate the impact of the virus if it eventually spread across the country as WHO listed Nigeria among 13 African countries identified as high-risk for the spread of the virus.

Consequently, President Muhammadu Buhari set up the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 on March 19, to be coordinated and overseen by Nigeria’s multi-sectoral, inter-governmental efforts to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

The President outlined the mandate of the task force to include providing overall policy direction, guidance and continuous support to the EOC at the NCDC, and other ministries and government agencies involved in the response activities, and ensure coordination toward a single set of national strategic objectives.

The PTF is to provide policy direction toward sensitisation and awareness campaigns on prevention measures and response activities, diagnostic laboratories and deployment strategies, as well as review and make recommendations for nationwide or regional non-pharmaceutical interventions if and when needed; such as school closures, suspension of large gatherings, implementation of social distancing and flight limitations.

The PTF is also to provide recommendations for the provision of direct funding and technical support to states and local governments to strengthen their preparedness capacity and mobilise human, material and financial resources from within and outside the country for effective national and state-level preparedness.

The task force is to coordinate Nigeria’s engagements with other countries’ bilateral and multilateral bodies, international organisations to share lessons, best practices, and technical assistance and keep the public abreast of strategic progress with Nigeria’s response, and emerging developments regarding preparedness and response.

To effectively achieve the mandate of the PTF, a National COVID-19 Response Centre (NCRC) was established within the task force, headed by the National Coordinator.

The NCRC is expected to provide strategic guidance and coordinate efforts of multi-sectoral and multilateral actors, as well as resources involved in the national response to ensure proper synergy and efficiency.

To this end, the NCRC developed a comprehensive National COVID-19 Multisectoral Pandemic Response Plan to serve as blueprint for coordinated national strategy to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the EOC continue to lead the national public health response in the country with oversight of the PTF-COVID-19, NCDC is working with states of the federation to support their response activities to the pandemic.

Several measures were instituted by Federal Government through the PTF-COVID-19 and FMoH to curtail the spread of the virus and protect the health of citizens, including an initial lockdown of non-essential activities; closure of schools; ban on international flights, and ban on interstate travels.

And while the lockdown lasted, between March and July 2020, television, radio, newspapers and the social media were awashed with jingles on how to keep safe and how to observe safety protocols, as carefully crafted by stakeholders, especially the NCDC.

Messages such as frequent washing of hands under running water for 20 seconds or use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser, wearing of face mask, respiratory hygiene and social distance were broadcast on TV and other sources of information, and have continued to be the new normal in all spheres of human endeavours.

However by July through August, Nigeria joined other countries that commenced gradual easing of the lockdown measures initially instituted at the beginning of the pandemic. This was to ensure balance between preserving lives and livelihoods, while addressing the socio-economic disruptions caused by the pandemic.

This came along with the phased and gradual easing of lockdown measures in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states, which took effect from May 2, 2020.
Also on July 27, the Federal Government extended the second phase of the eased lockdown by an additional one week.

To further review the response nationwide, and with the conclusion that Nigeria was not ready for full reopening of the economy, the PTF-COVID-19 announced the extension of Phase 3 of the eased lockdown for a period of four weeks, effective from Oct. 19. 2020.

The move was in line with amendments to address economic, socio-political and health considerations, such as maintaining restrictions on mass gatherings outside the workplace to not more than 50 persons, removal of the limitation on civil servants allowed to come to work with alternate day arrangements and commencement of sporting leagues, in particular, outdoor activities such as football.

While the NCDC continued to expand laboratories for testing COVID-19 and commenced the use of GeneXpert across the country to scale-up testing, the current number of network of laboratories for testing stands at 68.

And through the #TakeResponsibility campaign by the NCDC, Nigerians have been urged to take greater individual and collective responsibility in preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Meanwhile, even though there is no authorised or approved vaccine that can prevent COVID-19, the Federal Government has been working since the pandemic started to make one or more COVID-19 vaccines available as soon as possible.

Although NCDC does not have a role in developing COVID-19 vaccines, it has been working with health departments and partners to develop vaccination plans when a vaccine is available, while updating Nigerians on the number of people who test positive to the virus on daily basis.

The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) is also working with partners at all levels, including on flexible COVID-19 vaccination programme that can accommodate different vaccines and scenarios.

According to WHO, vaccines typically require years of research and testing before reaching the clinic, but scientists are racing to produce safe and effective coronavirus vaccine by 2021.

Researchers across the world are testing 54 vaccines in clinical trials on humans, and at least 87 preclinical vaccines are under active investigation in animals.

Scientists and vaccine makers have also said that a handful of vaccines can be available by the end of the year, if everything goes according to plan.

Of the three companies with vaccines in late-stage clinical trials, Pfizer says it can have initial results by the end of October, the other two companies — Moderna and AstraZeneca, have been vague, saying they hope to see results before the end of the year.

The FMoH also announced plan to set up a modern vaccine production company in the country and to work toward licenced indigenous production of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The ministry revealed that it was preparing to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with a first line Pharmaceutical company in Nigeria on a Public/Private Partnership to set up the company.

It also said that government was working with WHO to ensure Nigeria accessed the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it became available.

On Nov. 21, the NCDC said it launched a #COVID-19NigeriaStories blog to document Nigeria’s response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The director general of the centre told our reporter in Abuja that while Nigeria continued to respond to the novel Coronavirus pandemic, it was important to document the process and inform the public.

He then advised Nigerians to log on to — covid19blog.ncdc.gov.ng — to read about the people behind the response.

While response efforts toward halting the spread of the virus also continued around the globe but the numbers keep increasing in countries like the UK and America, the PTF, on Nov. 12, said “there will be no relaxation of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) protocols ahead of the 2020 Christmas season.

The coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, said at the daily briefing of the pandemic that Nigeria was currently worried about the rising cases across the globe, hence the need to enforce the rules during the yuletide.

On international travels, the coordinator advised holiday seekers to suspend their trips and stay in the country as Nigeria would ensure that incoming passengers underwent the travel rules.

The Director General of NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, also advised both incoming and outgoing travellers to suspend any travel arrangements if it was not necessary.

Meanwhile, as the numbers continue to fluctuate, the NCDC on Nov. 23, 2020 announced 155 new infections of the Coronavirus disease, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Nigeria to 66,383, while 62,076 patients were discharged and 1,167 deaths recorded in the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.

The centre noted that using antibiotics to treat COVID-19 was inappropriate, stressing that “antibiotics only work for bacterial infections, not viruses like COVID-19.

“Misusing or overusing medication leads to drug resistance. COVID-19 is caused by a virus not bacteria.

“Antibiotics should only be used in the treatment of bacterial infections as prescribed by a physician.

“Misuse of antibiotics could make the bacteria resistant to them and infections harder to cure.”

The public health agency also advised that people should avoid sharing personal items, avoid touching high-contact surfaces like door handles and stair rails, clean all surfaces with soap and water or disinfectants, in addition to observing other COVID-19 protocols.

The protocols include the use of face mask, frequent washing of hands, social distancing, respiratory hygiene and avoiding large gatherings.

Abujah Racheal

NEWSVERGE, published by The Verge Communications is an online community of international news portal and social advocates dedicated to bringing you commentaries, features, news reports from a Nigerian-African perspective.A unique organization, founded in the spirit of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, comprising of ordinary people with an overriding commitment to seeking the truth and publishing it without fear or favour.The Verge Communications is fully registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a corporate organization.

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