The federal government said it has not considered imposing mandatory COVID-19 tests or restrictions on travelers from China until necessary.
However, the government admitted that Nigeria was at risk of a further surge in the virus. Therefore, he advised Nigerians to get vaccinated.
The Coordinator of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Dr. Muktar Muhammed, revealed this to one of our correspondents in Abuja on Thursday.
But virologists warned that there could be a new outbreak of the virus in the country.
There are reports that countries are imposing COVID-19 tests and restrictions on visitors from China following Beijing’s announcement that it would remove restrictions on foreign travel.
Reports also indicate that there has been a surge of COVID-19 in the country, with the nation reporting around 5,000 cases a day, which analysts say went unreported.
Media reports reveal that many hospitals and funeral homes in China are already overwhelmed by worsening COVID-19, even as the government reports only a handful of new deaths from the virus.
Reports also show that China is struggling to keep up with calls for cremation and funeral services.
The United States, which has imposed mandatory COVID-19 tests on visitors from China, cited a lack of “adequate and transparent” COVID data in China in making its decision.
In addition to the US, Italy, Japan, Taiwan and India are among the growing number of countries imposing restrictions on travelers from China amid the rise of COVID-19.
The Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, said in a statement: “We continue to call on China to share the data and conduct the studies that we have requested and continue to request. As I have said many times before, all the hypotheses about the origins of this pandemic are left on the table.
“At the same time, the WHO is very concerned about the evolving situation in China, with increasing reports of serious illnesses.
“To conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground, WHO needs more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions and requirements for intensive care unit support.
“WHO is supporting China to focus its efforts on vaccinating those most at risk across the country, and we continue to offer our support for clinical care and the protection of its health system.”
The Coordinator and Technical Head of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Muhammed, said that the government would not impose any mandatory tests on visitors from China for now.
According to him, the increase in COVID-19 cases in China is predictable after the decision to lift the strict rules that kept the virus at bay.
Speaking exclusively to The PUNCH on Thursday, Muhammed said: “What’s happening in China is pretty predictable because they’re doing what’s called Europe’s COVID-19 policy and when you do that, you suddenly relax because the number of cases is going up. To increase. increase. China makes up about a quarter of the world’s population, and therefore if they open their borders and people travel, there is a high probability that they could export COVID-19. We previously had a similar situation 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 get vaccinated because that is the sure way that even if you do get infected, it is likely that you will not be admitted or 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 due to so much pressure on us, we did not copy because some other countries are doing something different, we knew in December that the cases were going to increase, but the good thing is that there are no new variants and we have not seen a major change.
“We know that the United States is putting that restriction on China and some other countries are doing it as well, India is doing it. Possibly the UK will anytime from today, but for us, we’ll see the evidence, we’ll allow the data, and we’ll allow the empirical evidence to lead to whatever action we need to take.
“In the meantime, we have to continue with surveillance, people must continue to complete the health declaration form before entering the country and if they know they have symptoms, they must declare it so that they can undergo a second examination.
“People have to take control and be responsible, we can’t keep blocking countries and putting restrictions unless we have empirical evidence and data to show that doing that will give us an advantage, but for now, we are monitoring the situation and if we have any reason to act, we certainly won’t hesitate, we’ll do what’s in the best interest of the people.”
Speaking further, the expert noted that Nigeria was at risk of a further rise in the virus as a result of China’s population.
“We are not imposing any mandatory tests on visitors from China for now. We are monitoring the situation. China is a quarter of the world unless you stop people from traveling. But nothing is out of the question, if need be 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 steps we have to take.
“If the Chinese enter Nigeria, certainly the cases will continue to increase even now, the cases are increasing and as I said, there are no new variants and we have not seen any increase in terms of hospitalization and mortality. Therefore, even if someone is positive, we are not going to quarantine that person.
“Vaccination is important, we recommend people to go get vaccinated. More than half of the population in this country according to the data has suffered from COVID-19, most of us unknowingly getting it at one time or another.
The experts react
However, the country’s virologists have said it is necessary to impose COVID-19 restrictions on visitors from China to stem a rise in cases.
A medical virologist at Adeleke University, Ede, Dr Oladipo Kolawole said the government should impose COVID-19 restrictions on visitors from China.
“This is not just about China. We should look at the flights coming from those areas and make sure they fill out the proper forms and vaccination is very important, once those passengers are vaccinated I think we can be protected. We need to take the full dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, at least two doses, but anyone who doesn’t have this needs to be put on surveillance so that if there is anything, contact tracing can be done.
“There is a possibility of an increase if we do not protect our borders very well. It is not only about flights but also about land and sea borders. We just have to be very careful. COVID-19 is still very much around, and the government must do what is in the best interest of the people. This is the festive period and people move from one place to another. The government must rise to the challenge,” Kolawole said.
In addition, a virologist at the Department of Virology, Faculty of Medicine, University College Hospital, Ibadan, Dr. Moses Adewumi, said the virus was almost certainly in the country.
“The best thing is to check when people come, but I don’t know why the government has decided not to. Perhaps in their wisdom, they felt that many of us are already exposed to the virus and have antibodies, and perhaps because of this they do not want to go through the rigors of mandatory testing. Normally, we should be doing those things even without COVID-19, but I think we’re being lazy.
“The danger is that people are exposed and new strains enter the country and that is why I said that we are just being lazy, but the right thing is that we impose the COVID-19 tests and control them. Not doing that shows that we are being lazy.
“If we are really conducting surveillance, how efficient is our surveillance? How well are we monitoring? Most of the time, we do it by lip service and that’s why I said we’re just being lazy, that we should control all those people and monitor all the time,” he said.
For its part, the Nigerian Academy of Medical Specialties has called on the Federal Government to impose restrictions on flights from China via Qatar, Ethiopia, South Africa and other airlines.
The Academy said there was a rise in coronavirus cases in the country.
In a statement made available to our correspondent on Thursday, the president of the Nigerian Academy of Medical Specialties, Professor Oladapo Ashiru, said swift action was needed in Nigeria.
Ashiru said: “Nigeria should immediately tighten its borders with strict restrictions on flights from China via Qatar, Ethiopia, South Africa and other airlines. We cannot afford to spill over from the country’s current COVID-19 surge. Therefore, reinstate all control measures for incoming flights from the eastern routes.
“Travellers from China must show a recent negative COVID-19 test result 48 here before landing.”
In addition, a Reuters report dated December 28, 2022, said Chinese hospitals and funeral homes were under intense pressure on Wednesday as a rising wave of COVID-19 strained resources, while the scale of the outbreak and doubts on official data led some countries to enact new travel rules for Chinese visitors.