As the yuletide season beckons amid COVID-19 pandemic and reported outbreak of Yellow Fever in some parts of the country, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has advised Nigerians to limit travels during the period. The agency noted that though this may be uncomfortable, it is critical to reducing spread of the diseases.
According the NCDC Director General and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu: “The virus is still with us and we must take responsibility to avoid large gatherings, wash our hands regularly, maintain physical distancing of at least two metres when in public and importantly and wear a mask.”
As for Yellow Fever, he said it is extremely important that Nigerians ensure their children receive the vaccine, which provides safety against the disease for life, adding: “If you are unsure of your vaccination status, please visit a health facility and request for the vaccine. The virus is spread by mosquito bites, so, it is important to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
“Please, protect yourself and your families by keeping your environment clean, covering your food to prevent contact with rodents, washing your hands regularly and adhering to public health guidance. If you feel ill, please avoid self-medication and visit a health facility.”
There have been growing concerns on possible upsurge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as outbreaks of deadly, but vaccine preventable diseases as the country enters the dry and festive season.
The recent outbreak of Yellow Fever, cholera, measles and meningitis in some states has been blamed on delay in prevention plans, especially vaccination campaigns due to COVID-19 pandemic, with critics saying many children missed out on routine vaccination this year, making future disease outbreaks inevitable.
Asked what safety measures the Federal Government has put or is putting in place this festive season to curb the spread of these diseases, Ihekweazu told The Guardian: “For COVID-19, we do not have a vaccine to prevent the disease and must adhere to preventive measures. This is even more important during this time of the year where the norm is to gather with family and friends to celebrate the festive season. For yellow fever, there is a vaccine to prevent against the disease, which is part of the routine immunisation schedule in Nigeria.”
As people travel to the interior, Ihekweazu said the responsibility to protect themselves and our country lies with us all and not just the government, adding: “We strongly advise that people limit travelling during this period, particularly as there is a risk of putting elderly family members, who are more susceptible to COVID-19, at risk.”
He assured that NCDC’s COVID-19 Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), laboratories and state public health teams would continue to work through Christmas and New Year to ensure that the pandemic response continues.
In a situation where Nigerians, even in the urban centres, have abandoned the safety protocols, with over 95 per cent of them still unaware of their COVID-19 status, Ihekweazu explained: “So far, we have tested about 750,000 samples since the beginning of the pandemic in Nigeria. We have not reached our target-testing rate yet, but have expanded testing capacity to all states in Nigeria.
“We have significantly scaled-up our national testing capacity and expanded the number of laboratories for COVID-19 testing from four at the beginning of the year to 69, with at least one laboratory in every state of the federation. This means that public health testing is easily accessible to the public and at no cost.
“We continue to intensify risk communication activities to sensitise Nigerians and encourage testing.”
The NCDC boss advised Nigerians to continue to take precautions by limiting visits and travel, while adhering to public health and safety measures, noting: “All returning travellers, excluding children under 10, are required to carry out a COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test within five days before travel, and test negative for this. Travelers are also required to take a post-arrival test seven days after arrival, given the risk of infection while traveling. Through this screening process, we have reduced the risk of COVID-19 cases reported from return travellers.
“We must continue to work together to protect our country and I urge all travellers to continue to adhere strictly to these requirements.”
Ihekweazu assured that government would continue to provide public health advice based on the evolving situation and with several other considerations.