COVID-19: Nigeria rules out restricting travellers from China
The Federal Government said it has not considered imposing mandatory COVID-19 testing or restrictions on travellers from China until there is a need for it.
The government, however, admitted that Nigeria was at risk of a fresh surge of the virus. It, therefore, advised Nigerians to go for vaccination.
The Coordinator of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Dr Muktar Muhammed, disclosed this to one of our correspondents in Abuja on Thursday.
But virologists warned that there could be a fresh outbreak of the virus in the country.
There are reports that countries are imposing COVID-19 testing and restrictions on visitors from China following Beijing’s announcement that it would remove curbs on overseas travels.
Reports also indicate that there has been a COVID-19 surge in the country, with the nation reporting about 5,000 cases a day, which analysts said were underreported.
Media reports reveal that many hospitals and funeral homes in China are already overwhelmed by worsening COVID-19 even as the government reports just a handful of new deaths from the virus.
Reports also show that China is struggling to keep up with calls for funeral and cremation services
The United States, which imposed mandatory COVID-19 testing on visitors from China, cited a lack of “adequate and transparent” COVID data in China for its decision.
Besides the US, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, and India are among the growing number of countries imposing curbs on travellers from China amid the COVID-19 surge.
The Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus in a statement, said, “We continue to call on China to share the data and conduct the studies we have requested, and which we continue to request. As I have said many times before, all hypotheses about the origins of this pandemic remain on the table.
“At the same time, WHO is very concerned over the evolving situation in China, with increasing reports of severe disease.
“To make a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground, the WHO needs more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions and requirements for intensive care unit support.
“The WHO is supporting China to focus its efforts on vaccinating people at the highest risk across the country, and we continue to offer our support for clinical care and protecting its health system.”
The Coordinator and Technical Head of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Muhammed, said the government was not imposing any mandatory test on visitors from China for now.
According to him, the surge in COVID-19 cases in China is predictable after the decision to lift strict rules that kept the virus at bay.
Speaking exclusively with The PUNCH on Thursday, Muhammed said, “What is happening in China is quite predictable because they are doing what is called the Europe COVID-19 policy and when you do that, suddenly you relax that the number of cases is going to increase. China constitutes about a quarter of the world’s population and therefore if they open their borders and people are travelling out, there is a high chance that they can export COVID-19. We had a similar situation earlier on with Europe and they were exporting COVID-19 to many parts of the world.
“So, we are monitoring the situation. We advise people to continue to take their vaccination because that is the sure way that even if you get infected, you are not likely to be admitted or to die from COVID-19. We are monitoring the situation to see what is best to protect Nigerians.
“We recently relaxed our COVID-19 protocols and that was because of so much pressure on us, we don’t copy because some other countries are doing something different, we knew by December that cases are going to rise but the good thing is that there are no new variants and we have not seen a major change.
“We know that the US is putting that restriction on China and some other countries are also doing that, India is doing that. Possibly, the UK is going to do it any moment from today but for us, we will look at the evidence, we will allow data, and we will allow the empirical evidence to lead to any action that we have to take.
“In the meantime, it’s for us to continue with vigilance, people should continue to complete the health declaration form before coming into the country and if you know you have symptoms, you should declare it so that you can be subjected to secondary screening.
“People have to take control and be responsible, we cannot continue to lock down countries and put restrictions unless we have empirical evidence and data that shows that doing that will give an advantage but for now, we are monitoring the situation and if we have any reason to act, certainly we will not hesitate, we will do what will be in the best interest of the people.”
Speaking further, the expert noted that Nigeria was at risk of a fresh surge of the virus as a result of China’s population.
“We are not imposing any mandatory test on visitors from China for now. We are monitoring the situation. China is a quarter of the world unless you stop people from travelling. But nothing is ruled out, if there is a need, we will not hesitate to take it as we did before, all we need is for Nigerians to cooperate and understand why we are taking the actions that we have to take.
“If Chinese people are coming into Nigeria, certainly the cases will continue to rise even right now, cases are rising and like I said there are no new variants and we have not seen any increase in terms of hospitalisation and mortality. Therefore, even if someone is positive, we are not going to quarantine that person.
“Vaccination is important, we advise people to go for their vaccination. More than half of the population in this country based on data have suffered from COVID-19, most of us without knowing were infected at one time or the other.”
However, virologists in the country have said there is a need to impose COVID-19 restrictions on visitors from China to curb a spike in cases.
A medical virologist at the Adeleke University, Ede, Dr Oladipo Kolawole said the government should impose COVID-19 restrictions on visitors from China.
“It’s not just about China. We should look at flights coming from those areas and make sure they fill out appropriate forms and vaccination is very important, once those passengers are vaccinated, I think we can be protected. We need to take the complete dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, at least two doses but anyone that does not have this should be placed on surveillance so that if there is anything, contact tracing will be possible to do.
“There is a likelihood of a surge if we don’t guard our borders very well. It’s not just about flights but also the land and sea borders. We just have to be very careful. COVID-19 is still very much around, and government should do what is best in the interest of the people. This is the festive period and people move from one place to the other. Government should rise to the challenge,” Kolawole said.
Also, a virologist at the Department of Virology, College of Medicine, University College Hospital, Ibadan, Dr Moses Adewumi, said it was almost certain that the virus is in the country.
“The best is to check when people are coming but I don’t know why the government has decided not to. Maybe in their wisdom, they felt since a number of us are already exposed to the virus, and we have antibodies and perhaps that is why they don’t want to go through the rigour of imposing compulsory testing. Normally, we should do those things even without COVID-19 but I think we are just being lazy.
“The danger is that people will be exposed and new strains will come into the country and that is why I said we are only being lazy but the right thing is for us to impose COVID-19 testing and check them. Not doing that shows that we are being lazy.
“If truly we are carrying out surveillance, how efficient is our surveillance? How well are we monitoring? Most often, we are paying lip service to it and that is why I said we are only being lazy, we should check all those people and monitor all the time,” he said.
On his part, the Academy of Medicine Specialties of Nigeria has called on the Federal Government to place restrictions on flights from China through Qatar, Ethiopian, South Africa and other airlines.
The Academy said there was an increased coronavirus cases in the country.
In a statement made available to our correspondent on Thursday, the President of the Academy of Medicine Specialties of Nigeria, Professor Oladapo Ashiru, said there was a need to act quickly in Nigeria.
Ashiru said, “Nigeria should immediately tighten her borders with strict restrictions on flights coming from China through Qatar, Ethiopian, South Africa and other airlines. We cannot afford the spillover from the current increase in COVID-19 from the country. Hence, reinstate all the control measures for incoming flights from the eastern routes.
“Travellers from China must show a recent negative COVID-19 test 48 here before landing.”
Also, a report on Reuters on December 28, 2022, said Chinese hospitals and funeral homes were under intense pressure on Wednesday as a surging COVID-19 wave drained resources, while the scale of the outbreak and doubts over official data prompted some countries to enact new travel rules on Chinese visitors.