• Tuesday, April 23, 2024
businessday logo


Counting the economic cost of Coronavirus fear in Nigeria


In the wake of the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus in China, countries that are close allies of China, including Nigeria, began to take measures to ensure the virus does not come into their own countries.

In Nigeria, the Federal Government quickly deployed health experts at various points of entry, to mount surveillance. This deployment comes at a huge cost in terms of equipment, time and other resources.

The Coronavirus outbreak in China has also denied many Nigerians the opportunity to either return to the country where they are based or travel there for business transactions. Many businesses in Nigeria are already counting their losses as a result of the development.

A dealer in electronics, who was billed to travel to China a few days before the outbreak became public, shared his experience.

“I was to travel towards the end of January to buy goods, electronic items. I usually go there to buy those things for my shop. It was during my preparation to do so that the announcement came about the Coronavirus. It also affected some of my colleagues. This has slowed down our business, but then it is only the living that can talk about business. I am even happy that I had not travelled before the announcement,” the businessman said.

Coronavirus outbreak and the fear within

Nigeria, just like other countries of the world has been agitated in recent time over the outbreak of Coronavirus that has resulted in the death of many in China and several other Asian countries.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are normally transmitted between animals while some can be transmitted from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient.
The first case of this new disease was confirmed in China on the 7th of January, 2020 and preliminary investigations showed that most patients either visited or worked in the Huanan Seafood wholesale market, Wuhan City.

Afterwards, exactly on 20th of January, 2020, about 278 laboratory-confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV infection with six deaths already reported to World Health Organisation (WHO) since the first case was reported on the 31st of December 2019.

According to the Conservation, many of the initial cases of the outbreak were thought to have contracted the virus through animal-to-human transmission from the market, but human-to-human transmission has also been established.

For example, in a household or health care setting, several known coronaviruses circulate in animals that have not yet infected humans.

Research has it that an infected person shows severe respiratory symptoms like cough and breathing difficulties while death is a rare outcome, and occurs mostly in patients with underlying illness.

Sadly, no specific treatment has been found for the disease caused by the new coronavirus. However, many of the symptoms can be treated, meaning that treatment is based on the patient’s clinical condition.

Coronavirus and implication for Nigerian economy

Experts believe that the outbreak of Coronavirus in Asian countries especially China holds serious implications for Nigeria’s economy as a good number of Nigerians travel to China every day to transact businesses.

“As Nigerians shun China as directed by the Ministry of Health for a period of time over the new virus, businesses will be affected, the economy will be affected, so also many families down here that heavily rely on businesses with China,” Theophilus Amah, a businessman, told BDSUNDAY.

Amah, who expressed worries over the development, said: “This is coming at a very bad time; a time when many businessmen are groaning under the border closure that has grounded many genuine businesses. Now, look at this. China remains one of the countries that have robust trade relationship with Nigeria. We can see how China has almost become everything to Nigeria in terms of road construction, technology transfer, etc. The outbreak of Coronavirus at this time is indeed a big blow on our economy.”

Recall that GozieAkudolu, president-general, South-East Amalgamated Markets Traders Association (SEAMATA), recently appealed to its members to shelve, for now, all business trips to China and other Asian countries to avoid being infected with the virus.

Restrictions on vessels from China, Thailand, Asian countries

To prevent the outbreak of the deadly disease in Nigeria through the seaports and land borders, the Federal Ministry of Health has placed vessels from China, Japan, Thailand and South Korea on strict surveillance.

Under the new regulations at the seaports, all vessels coming to Nigeria from the affected countries must notify the Port Health unit at the seaports and land borders, failing which, the vessel would not be allowed into the nation’s territorial waters.

Olokodana Abisola, director of the Port Health Services at the Lagos Ports Complex Apapa, said agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Plant Quarantine Services and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), among others, have all been put on red alert.

According to him, the Port Health also sensitised all port stakeholders on the outbreak of the deadly virus and on the need to take precautionary measures to ensure that the disease does not creep into Nigeria through the seaports or land borders.

He stated that crew members of vessels from the affected countries would be subjected to health screening including taking their temperatures to ascertain their health status before they would be allowed into the nation’s territory.

The screening exercise, he said, informed the need for the vessel to notify the Port Health office 48 hours before its arrival.

Surveillance at five international airports

The Federal Government also placed surveillance at five international airports in Enugu, Lagos, Rivers, Kano and the FCT.

Osagie Ehanire, minister of health, who disclosed this in Abuja recently, confirmed that government would also set up inter-multisectoral committee to scale up surveillance and vigilance.

According to him, the committee will help to detect suspicious cases and ensure containment.

“The committee shall comprise of critical stakeholders in the health, security, aviation and transport sectors and also include development partners, bearing in mind that, air travellers are likely carriers of the virus. The risk of importation is possible in all countries. However, the ministry wishes to assure all Nigerians that the capacity to detect, access and respond to this and other public health challenges are put in place,” he assured.

Meanwhile, the good news was that the Chinese Government has on their part, extended its Lunar New Year holiday to contain outbreak.

It recently announced on 27 January 2020 that the Lunar New Year holiday will be extended to 2 February 2020 as a measure to effectively reduce mass gatherings, block the spread of the epidemic, and to better safeguard the safety and health of the Chinese people.

Lassa fever, still a pain in the neck

While the relevant authorities in Nigeria are doing everything to ensure that the Coronavirus does not come into the country, they are presently contending with fresh outbreak of Lassa fever, which has become a yearly endemic occurrence in the country, especially during the dry season.

Today, cases of Lassa fever are currently being recorded in several states in the country.

From January 2018 to the week ending 18 February, the number of weekly reported Lassa fever cases, increased from 10 to 70 cases.

Also, from late-February to early March, there was downward trend in the weekly reported number of Lassa fever cases with less than 20 cases reported each week in March and only five new cases reported in the week ending 15 April 2018.

At that time, the Federal Government established Lassa fever case management centres in three states including Ebonyi, Edo, and Ondo States. The facility also had care workers trained in standard infection prevention and control (IPC) as well as in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and case management.

In Rivers state, WHO facilitated the reactivation of Emergency Operation Committee, chaired by then Commissioner for Health. WHO is also supporting decontamination of residences and health facilities associated with the three cases.

BDSUNDAY recalls that between late December 2015 and January 14, 2016, there was serious outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria and that resulted in 53 deaths in 10 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Then, the outbreak was more widespread with 10 states, 140 suspected and 30 confirmed cases. The case fatality rate (CFR) was significantly high at 53 or 37.9 percent of all cases.

The affected states were Bauchi, Nasarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Oyo, Plateau states and the FCT, with Niger being the most affected with 48 cases and 16 deaths.

Isaac Adewole, then minister of Health, who declared the outbreak, reiterated the Federal Government’s commitment to quickly contain it. He assured the public that “Nigeria had the capability to diagnose Lassa fever” and that “all confirmed cases were diagnosed by the country’s laboratories”.

Adewole also directed all health facilities in the country to emphasise routine infection prevention and control measures as well as free treatment of patients. Furthermore, he advised family members and health care workers to always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons.

Bashir Abba, WHO State Coordinator for Kano, reported that 60 Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers (DSNOs), 37 secondary health facilities medical directors, 55 community health workers, 40 medical laboratory scientists and 44 nomadic representatives were sensitised on surveillance and case management of Lassa fever.

Tackling Lassa fever with same vigor as in Ebola case

In 2014, outbreak of Ebola virus took Nigeria by surprise after Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American lawyer, flee into the country from Liberia, already sick with the virus resulting in about eight deaths- when he should never have been allowed on the plane. Before then, Nigeria had never had an Ebola case.

Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, a Nigerian physician, raised a red flag when attending to the Liberian patient at the First Consultant Hospital, Lagos, in July.

While caring for Sawyer and protecting the nation from the virus, Adadevoh and her colleagues were themselves at great risk.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in Nigeria was effectively controlled using the incident management approach with massive support provided by the private sector and international community.

Eight of the confirmed cases of EVD in Nigeria eventually died (case fatality rate of 42.1 percent) and twelve were nursed back to good health. On October 20 2014 Nigeria was declared fee of EVD by the WHO.

Speaking to BDSUNDAY on condition of anonymity, a health specialist expressed doubt if Nigeria could muster same vigor in terms of resources and togetherness mobilised in fighting the Ebola virus if such threatening situation presents itself again now.

The health specialist said: “Well, in the fight against the Lassa fever, I can say, so far, so good. But you know that everything is now politicised. During the Ebola outbreak, there was no party issue, everybody saw him/herself as a Nigerian. Some state governments put themselves into it, and with collaboration with the Federal Government, Ebola was contained. The way I see this country today, can we still speak with that same voice? We are talking about Lassa fever, if there is another Ebola outbreak today, what do you think will happen?”

FG’s response time good – Expert

Chikwe Ihekweazu, a senior honorary lecturer on Infectious Diseases, University College London (UCL), stated that the urgency with which the nation’s health system braced up for the outbreak of Coronavirus, shows that Nigeria, seems to have learnt big lessons from the havoc meted out on its citizens during the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

“The Nigerian Ebola Virus experience provides valuable insights to guide reforms of African health systems in preparation for future outbreak of infectious diseases,” he said.
According to him, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is currently coordinating a multisectoral technical group that is assessing and managing the risk of importation of the disease into Nigeria.

To achieve this, NCDC has been in close communication with WHO and it is closely monitoring the situation globally while the Port Health Service unit of the Federal Ministry of Health has been placed on alert and also heightened screening measures at the points of entry.

On the other hand, the ministry has advised travellers from Nigeria to Wuhan, China to avoid contact with sick people, animals (alive or dead), and animal markets.

BDSUNDAY understands that travellers from Wuhan to Nigeria may be asked questions upon arrival by the Port Health about symptoms of illness and travel history, after which they would be advised to report immediately to NCDC if they feel ill after a trip to Wuhan.

FG’s prompt response heartwarming – BMO 

The Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) has commended the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for its timely intervention to stop the entry of the virus into our country.

In a release signed by its Chairman,NiyiAkinsiju and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, the group said that the Federal Government had immediately responded by mounting surveillance counters across the international airports in the country as well as shutting down the Panda supermarket, a Chinese supermarket that had on its counters expired seafood and other harmful products.

BMO said the nefarious activities of the supermarket came to light based on a report by a whistleblower to the Federal Competition Consumer Protection Commission (FCPC).“We believe that these and other preventive measures taken by the Buhari administration are remarkable and aimed at safeguarding the health of the citizens. In the past, Nigerians were left at the mercy of foreigners who import all kinds of consumables without considering the harmful effects on the health of Nigerian consumers.

“Fortunately, under the present administration, the welfare of the citizens is at the forefront of government policies and programmes.“We condemn the discriminatory practices of the Chinese supermarket against Nigerians, and commend the Buhari administration for its efforts at putting the health of its citizens first,” it said.