International airports yesterday went on red alert as they intensified the screening of inbound passengers, following an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in China. The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) advised passengers and other airport users to comply with all quarantine procedures at airports nationwide to prevent the importation of the virus.
Airports worldwide also increased health screenings and the implementation of new quarantine procedures as officials hurried to slow the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, a new SARS-like illness that first appeared in Hubei province, China. The General Manager (Corporate Affairs) at FAAN, Henrietta Yakubu, said all the equipment and personnel used in combating the deadly Ebola virus in 2014 were still much in place at the airports and were being deployed accordingly.
She said FAAN had always had thermal scanners at its airports to monitor the temperature of passengers and capture their pictures. “When passengers walk pass the scanner, it registers their temperature. And if it’s too high, they are pulled aside for observation. FAAN, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, has confirmed the adequacy of the facilities at the nation’s airports, to prevent the importation of the virus through the airports. Passengers are therefore advised to submit themselves for routine quarantine checks whenever they are asked to,” Yakubu said.
With the coronavirus (nCoV) reportedly infecting over ‘10,000’ persons and killing nine, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) disclosed that it had set up a multi-sectoral technical group to handle the threat. It advised Nigerians to remain calm, while travellers from Nigeria to Wuhan, China, have been asked to avoid contact with sick people, animals (alive or dead), and animal markets.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which implies that they are normally transmitted between animals and people. But a novel coronavirus is a new strain of the virus that has not been previously identified in humans. Some coronaviruses can be transmitted from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient, in a household or health care setting. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans, until now.
To reduce the risk of spreading the virus, NCDC advised members of the public to adhere to the following measures: wash your hands regularly with soap under running water; cover your mouth and nose properly with handkerchief or tissue paper when sneezing and/or coughing; you may also cough into your elbow if a handkerchief is not available; avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing; avoid self-medication; and report to the nearest health facility when you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms.
In a statement by its Director General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, in Abuja yesterday, NCDC said the Port Health Services unit of the Federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria had been placed on alert and had heightened screening measures at the points of entry. It also said that in China, exit screening measures had been enhanced for travellers from Wuhan city at the Points of Entry (PoE) -airports and ground transport stations- since the January 14, 2020, and this includes temperature checks, combined with provision of information and masks to passengers with fever, as well as directing symptomatic passengers to health facilities for follow up.
Asked if Nigeria is ready to diagnose, treat and prevent the spread of any case of coronavirus, Ihekweazu said: “As this is a new strain of the coronavirus, a standardised diagnostic test is still being developed. We are working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to access reagents molecular diagnosis in the NCDC National Reference Laboratory. As the situation evolves, we will know more.”
According to the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Prof. Babatunde Lawal Salako, the institute in collaboration with NCDC is capable of diagnosing and containing possible cases of coronavirus in the country.
He explained: “Last year, we sent three of our researchers to China for three months to learn the art and skills and research of pathogen identification especially viruses. So, this knowledge is with them. We also have about two of them who went for another two weeks course. Two people also went to Institute Pasteur in Senegal, a World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional lab, which is where Nigeria often sends samples to during outbreaks and they spent about two weeks. All of these are to prepare the capacity of the institute to assist public health institutions in making detection of pathogens during outbreak.”