By G9ija

The Federal Government has released more guidelines that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 as more states fully reopen schools on Monday.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, which disclosed this on Thursday, stated that schools had been directed to conduct COVID-19 risk assessment every week.

The NCDC also disclosed that local governments and states were directed to conduct monthly and quarterly COVID-19 risk assessment in schools respectively.

The NCDC Director General, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, stated these in an electronic mail sent to one of our correspondents in response to enquiries.

According to the NCDC, the assessment will determine schools’ level of compliance with safety protocols including physical distancing, hand-washing and the use of face masks, whose violation can put students at risk of COVID-19.

Also on Thursday, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 said the Federal Government would seize passports of travellers who failed to carry out COVID-19 test. It added that visas of foreign travellers would be cancelled.

Schools across the country were shut in March as part of measures to check the spread of COVID-19.

But the Senior Secondary School 3 students resumed on August 17 to write the West African Senior School Examinations.

At its press conference on September 3, the PTF recommended phased reopening of schools.

Following the PTF’s recommendation, states that have announced dates for reopening of their schools include Ogun, Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, Delta and Kogi States. States, where schools are resuming on Monday, include Lagos, Ekiti , Osun and Ogun.

On Thursday, the NCDC DG told The PUNCH that part of its responsibility was to work with all relevant stakeholders to strengthen the country’s capacity for early detection and response to COVID-19 cases.

He stated, “We have also continued to educate the public on measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

We know that as the economy and society re-open gradually, we may record a spike in COVID-19 cases. We have reviewed the situation in other countries that have re-opened schools as well as guidance from WHO, UNICEF and other public health authorities.

“There is lesser risk of COVID-19 cases in school settings, if schools carefully coordinate, plan and put the required safety measures in place before reopening.

We are working closely with the Federal Ministry of Education, PTF-COVID-19, states and our partners to ensure that the required safety measures are in place to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our schools.

The PTF-COVID-19 and Federal Ministry of Education have mandated schools to conduct periodic (weekly) risk assessments. This is to review the gaps that may exist in reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread in schools, and tailor interventions to address these gaps. Local governments areas and states are to conduct monthly and quarterly risk assessment respectively.

In addition to this, schools are to set up school health teams including teachers and learners that would facilitate implementation of the safety protocols in schools. LGAs and States have been advised to set up multi-sectoral school health committees dedicated to supporting and monitoring the implementation of safety protocols in the school.

Speaking further on risk assessment, the NCDC spokesman Emeka Oguanuo, said it included, “the process of identifying and analysing potential gaps, threats that may cause a likelihood of COVID-19 spread.

Risk assessments in public health are also done to determine severity or degree of an outbreak. In this case, it is done to determine if school re-opening is safe and whenever a bridge in safety is observed, it can be addressed by relevant stakeholders.

COVID-19 test: FG to suspend passports of errant travellers for six months

Meanwhile, the PTF on Thursday warned international travellers arriving the country to carry out COVID-19 test within 14 days of their arrival.

The National Coordinator of PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, said at the task force’s briefing in Abuja that such Nigerian travellers who failed to carry out the PCR COVID-19 test within the stipulated period would have their passports suspended for six months, while foreigners would have their visas on their way out of the country cancelled.

He explained that a passenger must have a negative PCR COVID-19 test, upload it on the prescribed portal and generate a QR Code, before departure and must pay for another test within seven days, and undergo the test within 14 days of arriving Nigeria.

He said, “We are urging passengers coming into the country to make sure they pay for their COVID-19 PCR test by day 7 of arrival. If passengers do not have a test for COVID 19 by day 14, our system will pick up these passengers and if it is very clear they haven’t had a test for COVID 19 , the passports will be suspended for a period of six months.

Therefore it is really essential for non-Nigerians, their visas on their way out of Nigeria will be cancelled. So, they might have difficulties coming to the country.

He said although government continued to have issues with payment for the PCR test by arriving passengers, it would “not insist on evidence of payment before boarding, but we will be releasing a strong recommendation to airlines that preferably people come onboard with the QR Code.”

Aliyu said it was unrealistic and unsustainable for the Federal Government to bear the cost of the PCR test for every passenger arriving the country.

He said, Currently about 5,000 air travellers come in and out of Nigeria, and the PTF wants to ensure that we do not lose the gains made in the response.

It is therefore critical that passengers are tested and follow protocols correctly. When fully open, the number of passengers going through the country is not small. At the moment, our daily testing number is about two and a half thousand (2,500) per day. If we add the passenger numbers coming, potentially, we are tripling the number of tests we do every day, and that is why we have to use the private sector to get this leverage while at the same time working to bring down the cost for passengers.

Therefore it will it be costly and unrealistic for the Federal Government to bear the cost for test for each passenger coming into Nigeria. This will not only be unsustainable but will also redirect precious resources away from the public health response.

Asking students to pay for COVID test, unnecessary burden on parents –PTF

Aliyu also said it was unnecessary to subject resuming students to the coronavirus test.

He said it would amount to an unnecessary financial burden on parents to ask students to provide COVID-19 test as condition for resuming schools.

He said what was more important was for schools to enforce compliance with the non-pharmaceutical measures and be vigilant in monitoring children and quickly isolating the them on showing the first suspected sign of COVID.

He said, “If you do a PCR test today, the greatest value it has is if it is positive. If it is negative, that negative result applies to the time the sample was taken. Beyond that, 48, 72 hours – three days, four days after you are tested, you can still come up with a positive result.

So when it comes to students in schools, we encourage schools to be vigilant to make sure they monitor children that are sick, check temperature, to make sure they have access to hand-washing facilities, in terms of non-pharmaceutical interventions, and to have a very low threshold for making sure that a child is excluded at the first sign that they might have COVID.

In general children do not present symptoms, but they may still have respiratory symptoms. Even in the absence of COVID, a child having rashes, having diarrhoea or having a cough, ideally should be excluded from school if he is unwell, so that other children do not catch the diseases.

“These are sensitive precautions that we will urge schools to take. It will be an unnecessary burden on parents, to be honest, for students to be tested for COVID by PCR or whatever because, it has value only for that material time.”

We’re seeing curve flattening, says FG

Also at the press conference, the Federal Government said the country was flattening the curve of COVID-19 pandemic, considering the consistent drop in number of reported cases in the country.

The government also appealed to the Joint Health Sector Unions to shelve its strike, warning that it could not afford the consequences particularly in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and chairman of the PTF on COVID, Boss Mustapha, who stated these, urged the electorate in Edo State to be careful by observing physical distancing.

Mustapha clarified that even though the celebration of the nation’s diamond anniversary on October 1 deserved to be loud and elaborate, it would be low-key because of COVID – 19.

The SGF said, “Looking back at our national response, using science, data and experience from other countries, we cannot but say that tremendous progress has been made and that we are beginning to notice that the curve is flattening. However, as we have always stated, this positive development shall be taken with vigilance and cautious optimism.

This is based on the fact that we are convinced that we have not tested enough. We have only recently reopened our international flights and that nations that have opened up their economies have done a re-think following the resurgence of the cases in their countries.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said Nigeria had commenced discussions with Russia and other countries producing reliable vaccines for a possible supply when they were developed.

He said that although India had been promised 10 million vaccines from Russia, Nigeria would not be left out of similar arrangements.

Ehanire said, With regard to the conversation we had with His Excellency, the Russian Ambassador, there was no memo. We requested to know about the development of their vaccines, how far they have gone, and what they have done so far.

His Excellency came with a memoir which is a document explaining how far they have gone and giving us contact information of their scientists, particularly the research centre where this development was going on.

At the meeting we had with the Ambassador, we also had our own side (experts) present – who asked questions and were given a website to contact the scientists at the research centre. That conversation is going on as I speak and I haven’t got a report yet.

I read a few days ago that Russia had promised India, I think, 10 million vaccines, if I remember correctly from what I read. India is among the 20 countries or so, who have applied as at last count, and told Russia that they were interested and they have been promised 10 million when the vaccines are ready.