With the decision by many state governments to reopen religious centres this weekend, the Federal Government has warned that any violation of its guidelines for their reopening will warrant a review of the restriction placed on them.
Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, gave this warning during the taskforce’s press conference in Abuja.
According to the guidelines, vulnerable persons, including those with conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer are to worship at home.
Also, people above 55 years of age are advised to stay away from worship centres for now.
Mustapha, however, promised that the task force would continue to explain the guidelines it issued to worship centres and other public places.
The taskforce chairman said, “As we approach the weekend, we remind the public to be aware of the guidelines set for restricted opening of places of worship. National guidelines have been shared with the states and we expect that protocols will be agreed with religious leaders. Compliance is important so as to avoid unwanted consequences that put the lives of people at risk of contracting COVID-19. We urge utmost caution at all times.
“The PTF will continue to monitor the overall compliance to the easing of restriction as well as evolution of the outbreak. However, we will not hesitate to review as we progress, should the situation warrant, to avoid preventable risks of transmission.”
Mustapha also reiterated that the World Health Organisation had resumed the clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine suspended on May 25.
Speaking on Nigerians who tested positive to COVID-19 but have been refusing to go to the isolation centres, the SGF appealed for the cooperation of all citizens.
According to him, “We have received reports about citizens refusing to help with contact tracing as well as going into isolation after testing positive. It is in the interest of everybody that contacts are traced so as to slow down the spread.
“It is also in our interest to go into isolation facilities for close monitoring. A number of fatalities have been recorded due to change in the condition of patients while staying outside the isolation facilities.”
Similarly, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, expressed worries by the Federal Government over the fleeing of isolation centres by COVID-19 patients.
He said this had aggravated community transmission of the virus.
The health minister said government found it difficult to convince some COVID-19 positive people that they had the virus.
“We also have issues with people who test positive and think you are going to look for them and then they run. So the figures don’t tally because people who think you are going to trace them don’t want to go into isolation,” he said.
The health minister explained that the Federal Ministry of Health team sent to investigate the incidents in Kano, Sokoto, Jigawa, Borno, Katsina and Gombe had concluded its work and would submit its final report on Friday (today).
Also at the press conference, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control issued a new set of guidelines for the discharge of COVID-19 patients from treatment centres.
NCDC Director General, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, disclosed that COVID-19 patients would no longer require a negative test result before being discharged.
Last month, the NCDC discharge criterion, which had included two consecutive negative tests, was reviewed to one negative test.
The NCDC boss, however, explained that with new knowledge on the duration of the virus, it had become unnecessary to keep COVID-19 patients in treatment centres until they tested negative.
Ihekweazu said, “The two critical groups of patients are symptomatic and asymptomatic. For symptomatic patients, they may now be discharged at least 10 days after symptom onset and at least three days without symptom.
“So, if you’re symptomatic, you can be discharged if you’ve had three days without symptoms in addition to at least 10 days of symptoms. If your symptoms stay longer, we will wait for longer while managing you supportively.
“If you’re asymptomatic, you can be discharged 14 days after your first positive test, with confidence that you can go home and you’re no longer infective and you’re not putting anyone else at risk. So, we no longer have to wait for a negative test to discharge.”
The NCDC DG stated that medical professionals were ignoring the new guidelines due to their attachment to the previous protocols, adding that the science showed that 10 days without symptoms was sufficient to discharge patients.
On post-discharge management, he noted that only asymptomatic patients would be discharged.
“We are not suggesting that people are discharged while they are still symptomatic, so we are talking about discharging people that are asymptomatic and have recovered,” he said.
Ihekweazu added that the reviewed guidelines were in line with the findings of the World Health Organisation, based on a new research.
Another policy change brought on by the latest research on COVID-19 case management, according to Ihekweazu, is the decision to stop the administration of antiviral drugs.
“In addition, we have also removed the use of antivirals from our treatment guidelines. Like the minister just said, the trials for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine will still go on,” he said.
Speaking further on the removal of antiviral drugs from the COVID-19 treatment guidelines, Ihekweazu said, “We reached out to some antiviral drugs. One that was in our guidelines recently was the lopinavir/ritonavir combination, which is a combination of medicines we use for HIV. So, we look for whatever we have to try.
“As evidence emerges and science improves, then we have to start making hard choices. There have been quite a number of studies now that have shown that they don’t really improve the outcome of this illness, so we’ve withdrawn them from the guidelines of management.”
The National Coordinator, PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, raised the alarm over the lack of access to care for chronic medical conditions, including human immunodeficiency virus, as well as absence of maternal, newborn and child health services.
Aliyu expressed regret that persons with underlying medical conditions were unable to receive the needed care.