The Minister of Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire and Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu have exressed worry for more positive coronavirus cases as the country expands testing capacity.
They spoke during the daily briefing on the COVID-19 situation in Abuja on Thursday.
Ehanire said: “As contact tracing and testing capacity are being ramped up, more and more cases will be found and the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases is expected to rise initially. We also worry about persons, especially Nigerians, returning to the country through land borders, who run a higher risk of infection while in a confined space for a long time, like transit in a crowded bus or car.
“With the expanded national case definition and the addition of two laboratories to the NCDC network of COVID-19 molecular laboratories, the national testing capacity has increased. Moreover, the lockdown in high burden States presents the advantage of reduced population mobility and leaves more people at home to be found during contact tracing.
“All of this means that more people and samples can be collected and tested more quickly, giving a shorter turnaround time, but it also means that more cases will be discovered initially than before.
“With 71 per cent of the over presumed 6,000 or more contacts now traced, the number of confirmed cases will be rising dramatically. Contact tracing will still be intensified to reduce the number of outstanding cases.
“We shall continue to expand the number of isolation centres and prepare ICU units across the country for those who may have complications.”
Dr. Ihekweazu said: “We had the largest number of positive cases yesterday (Wednesday) but we had also the largest number of people tested ever yesterday. We make sure that we prioritize getting back the results to all the positives. There has been some delay in calling all the negatives, but we are working on that and by the end of today we should be through with the backlogs.
“We currently have 15 Rapid Response Teams supporting 15 States, which is the largest deployment of public health resources for an outbreak ever in our country. Unlike other outbreaks that are localised, but this time every day we add a new state. Every single day, we have to deploy a new team which requires resources – people, logistics, efforts.
“We are building up on some of the investments we have made over the last few years. Over the last few years, we have set up 22 public health emergency operation centers (EOCs) in States. Our plan was to scale it up to 37 to cover all the states including the FCT. Unfortunately, we were not quite there when this outbreak struck. But this will give us the opportunity to invigorate our efforts because it is within those EOCs at the states level that the response comes together”.
The NCDC DG added: “Like any medical test, there has to be a clinical reason to perform the procedure.
“In the case of COVID-19, someone must have symptoms of the disease like fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
“Travel to an area with active transmission of COVID-19 is also a factor, as well as close contact with someone who is sick or had traveled.
“It’s advisable for doctors to test their patients for other respiratory illnesses before submitting a COVID-19 test.
“At present we do not recommend testing for those that do not have symptoms.
“It can take anywhere from two to 14 days for COVID-19 symptoms to develop and until they do the test won’t pick up signs of the disease.
“It is more about making sure that you identify whether someone that has exposure develops disease or not.
“Testing them early on in their incubation period doesn’t help settle that question.
“Even those who have been asked to quarantine often will not be tested until they have symptoms,” he explained.
“Physical social distancing is proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness during an outbreak.
“This means making changes in your everyday routines to minimize close contact with others, including avoiding crowded places and non-essential gatherings, avoiding common greetings, such as handshakes.
“Limiting contact with people at higher risk like older persons and those in poor health, keeping a distance of at least two arms-length approximately two metres from others,” he advised.
“The risk would vary between and within communities, but given the increasing number of cases in the country, the risk to Nigerians was considered high.
“This does not mean that all Nigerians will get the disease. It means that there is already a significant impact on our health care system.
“If we do not flatten the epidemic curve now, the increase of COVID-19 cases could impact our health care system,” he advised.
Ehanire added: “In view of the prevailing global shortages of particular commodities like masks, protective gowns and even ventilators, we are going to have conversations with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to look for indigenous producers and manufacturers to try and support the efforts to find more facilities and more commodities that we are going to be using for personal protection equipment.