The two cities most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – Lagos and Abuja – have begun shutting down isolation centres as Nigerians snub the medical facilities, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
One of our correspondents in Abuja was informed that the National Hospital had discharged its last patient while the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada, which attend to most severe cases, had about four patients as opposed to the average of 30 severe patients it used to have.
The Chief Medical Director, UATH, Prof Bishop Ekele, confirmed to Saturday PUNCH that indeed the rate of admission had dropped significantly, adding that only four patients remained at the isolation ward and they might soon be discharged.
Ekele said, “We thank God that things (cases) are beginning to drop. The doctors’ strike has no effect on our facility. Usually, it is those that need oxygen that are brought to us. We have just about four patients and hopefully they might soon be discharged.”
Also speaking to one of our correspondents, the spokesperson for the National Hospital, Dr Tayo Haastrup, said the last patient had been discharged last week.
“We have no more (coronavirus) patients in our isolation centre,” Haastrup said on Friday.
“However, we will not be closing it down because that is what we use for epidemics like Lassa fever. We still have the six rooms for such purposes,” he added.
The Chairman, Medical Sub-Committee of the COVID-19 Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee in Abuja, Dr Ejike Oji, said the drop in the infection rate was a positive development. He, however, said this was not time for complacency.
Oji recalled that late last year, there was a similar drop in the infection rate which caused people to throw caution to the wind. He said this attitude was what led to the second wave. He, therefore, warned that the fight against COVID-19 must be sustained.
“It is true that severe infections have dropped but this is not the time for complacency. If you recall when we witnessed a drop late last year, people threw caution to the wind. What we have learnt about COVID-19 is that the virus mutates. We saw how the second wave came. There could be a third wave if we are not careful.”
The Minister of State for Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, told Saturday PUNCH that the drop in the rate of infections showed that the strategies adopted by the government were working.
“It shows that our strategies are working. If the rate of infection is dropping, it shows we are doing something right,” the minister said.
Five COVID-19 patients left in IDH as Lagos shuts all isolation centres
The Lagos State Government has reportedly closed down its 554-bed isolation centres following the decline in COVID-19 cases in the state.
Reports said the need to seal the facilities was also spurred by the fact that Nigerians had opted for home treatment than present themselves at COVID-19 test centres.
This was said to have compelled the state government to recall the frontline workers in the affected facilities. While some were consequently decommissioned, some others were redeployed to various infectious disease wards at the Mainland Hospital in Yaba.
Reliable sources told Saturday PUNCH that except for the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba which is active, the remaining COVID-19 treatment venues, including the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Agidingbi, Onikan, Gbagada, Indo and Landmark isolation centres have been shut. The Indo Isolation Centre at Ajao Estate was the last centre to be closed on March 30.
One of our correspondents paid a visit to the IDH facility last week and discovered that unlike the usual bustling around the isolation centre, there was a lull in activities.
A source told Saturday PUNCH that some workers especially at the Indo Centre, which comprised regular caregivers, paid by the Health Service Commission, were asked to report back to IDH.
The IDH isolation centre with a bed space of 284, arguably the biggest and most effective in the state, presently has five patients.
According to him, most of the over 70 volunteer frontline health workers recruited in January to manage patients with severe respiratory challenges are presently being decommissioned due to decline in cases.
The IDH, situated in the Mainland Hospital, is a purpose-built facility equipped with intensive care unit capability in response to any pandemic. It originally had 124-bed capacity but a new state-of-the-art ICU with 160-bed space was erected on the premises by the Coalition Against COVID-19, a private sector-led organisation established to assist the government in combating the disease.
A frontline caregiver in the facility confirmed the report, adding that there were more cases between January and early March before the recent decline.
The health worker said, “In January, there were over 100 patients in the CACOVID ward alone and there were other patients in other wards, so you can imagine the kind of stress we went through in managing the patients. Now, we juggle managing COVID-19 and HIV/TB patients in the last one month. We the frontline workers are also not spared in terms of fatalities. A caregiver was brought into IDH from Apapa General Hospital who did not survive it. Another one brought here in critical condition from Gbagada General Hospital also didn’t make it.
“Our job here is quite challenging. The only working equipment that the government provided for us are just gloves and face masks. Nothing else! What we are demanding is that now that COVID-19 cases have gone down the Lagos State should pay us our three-month remuneration and allow us to go.”
The physician lamented that as the number of cases continued to decline, with only five patients left at the facility, many health workers had been decommissioned without payment while some others were being redeployed to take care of tuberculosis and HIV patients on admission.
A senior CACOVID official who pleaded anonymity confirmed the suspension of operation in the isolation centres, noting that a handful of the flagship hospitals were still allowed to run a holding bay.
The official added, “Aside from IDH, all the isolation centres are closed, but hospitals such as Gbagada, LASUTH, LUTH and Federal Medical Centre at Ebute Metta still have their holding bays or COVID-19 wards as most people call it. These are for the treatment of people with unusual infectious disease and suspected cases of COVID-19.”
The CACOVID official also confirmed earlier reports that only five patients are still on admission in the IDH facility, adding, “It is true that we still have five patients on admission, but that doesn’t mean we don’t record fresh COVID-19 positive cases. Many patients are often requested to isolate themselves at home to save cost in terms of accommodation, treatment and feeding for all.
“From experience, we know some of them recover within five days of self-isolation, except those who have underlying illnesses.”
Asked if the ongoing vaccination had something to do with the drop in the number of cases, the official disclosed that it was unlikely, noting that although vaccination was a priority to the state, there were strong indications that the low incidence of COVID-19 meant that the state was gradually experiencing herd immunity.
The official decried the poor compliance with safety protocols, adding, “If I have to be honest with you, we have not been carrying out COVID-19 tests like before. How can you discover many positive cases when you are not testing enough people?”
The official also expressed reservations over the non-payment of IDH health workers’ three-month special allowances, describing it as unfair.
The CACOVID official added, “That was how they also messed up the payment of last year’s volunteer health workers. Many of them have reported the incident to us. We know the money is there but certain people have their eyes on it. They would always hide under paper works and office bureaucracy to avoid paying them. We are familiar with the rhetoric.”
Why COVID-19 frontline workers are being redeployed – Lagos govt
When contacted, Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, confirmed the report that only one functional isolation centre was still active in the state.
He said, “If you look around, you will observe that all the isolation centres have been shut down. We have only one functional centre left in Lagos. That is the CACOVID facility in Yaba which has the capacity to accommodate 100 patients. But at the moment, only five COVID-19 patients are left in that facility.”
On the redeployment of frontline health workers to HIV/TB management wards, Omotoso said, “That is what the Mainland Hospital is meant for. It is called Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba. It was actually remodelled to accommodate COVID-19 patients after the outbreak of the virus.
“Now that COVID-19 is going, the hospital has to revert to its primary role. Therefore, if anybody is saying he or she is overwhelmed with work, the person is not being truthful, objective and fair.”
…says Lagos prepared for third wave
On whether the state is prepared for the possibility of a third wave of the virus, the commissioner said there was no cause for alarm.
He said, “The second wave is almost gone. The curve has been flattened at the moment. We are not trying to make the public relax because we have seen how some countries began another lockdown after they let down their guard. We don’t want that to happen in Lagos. That is why we are being very careful and asking people to keep to the COVID-19 protocols.
“We are seriously praying against having a third wave of COVID-19. But should it happen, Lagos has the capacity to reopen all its isolation centres to combat it.”
…Flouting COVID-19 protocols may lead to third wave – Salako
The Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Prof Babatunde Salako, has nevertheless said there could be a third wave of the pandemic if people flouted safety protocols, adding that the drop in cases could not be attributed to vaccination.
He said, “It (the drop) just coincided with the period of the vaccination exercise; the low positive cases we are experiencing couldn’t have been a result of that.
“Just as the first wave went up and came down, the second wave is experiencing a similar decline. However, if we are not careful, a third wave will start. It’s natural; when cases drop, people stop observing the non-pharmaceutical interventions but once they see that it’s going up or people are dying, they would keep to it again. This may continue until we are able to vaccinate a significant number of people.”
Vaccination not connected to low cases – Tomori
Also, renowned professor of virology, Oyewole Tomori, said he did not believe the vaccination exercise had anything to do with low cases of COVID-19 being recorded in the country.
He said, “The exercise is a little over three weeks old. Besides, the effect of AstraZeneca vaccine cannot be felt now. Immunity does not develop until about a month or thereabouts.
“Let me put it this way – we have gone through a period of flattening the curve with people coming in with variants of the virus. Then we had the surge, which was spiked by travellers coming into Nigeria around the Christmas period. We should be wary that people still move around carelessly. This is one of the factors that could contribute to another upsurge if we are not careful.”
The virologist also noted that it was too early to declare that Nigeria had flattened COVID-19 curve.
He added, “Before we can really talk about whether we have succeeded in flattening the curve, I will really want to know what our testing is like. Are we testing enough, are people reporting for testing? If testing drops, the number of positive cases also drops. It is too early to start saying the curve has been flattened. This is just April.
“We can say there was a drop from early March, but we also need to look at what led to the surge of COVID-19 second wave. This is where the labs and the scientists need to come in because we really don’t know. What we know is that people came home for Christmas and brought back some of these virus variants.”
Tomori warned some self-acclaimed experts to desist from misinforming the people, adding that Nigeria could do better in vaccination, noting that there were people not on the priority list that were being vaccinated.
Ogun records zero patient as residents abandon treatment centres
The Ogun State Government has said that only two of its three isolation centres are still active but that there is no patient in its isolation centres. It added that in the last few days, the state had not recorded new cases.
The Commissioner for Health, Dr Tomi Coker, told one of our correspondents in an interview on Friday that people were no longer presenting themselves for test as focus shifted to vaccination. She disclosed that the state had no fewer than 695 cases under home management in the first week of March, which had dropped to 64 as of the last week of the same month.
She said, “Vaccination and testing are being carried out at the same time. It seems people have stopped presenting themselves for testing.”
On the number of patients in isolation centres, Coker said “zero patient is in isolation centre; we have not had any admission in the last nine days (beginning of April) and the number of deaths has remained static. We are still running home management, but it has drastically reduced.
“We were the first state to get the vaccine and following that we were one of the first to complete the vaccination campaign. So far, we have vaccinated over 58,000 people.”
Oyo isolation centres working at half mast
In Oyo State, the state government said its isolation centres were operating at half capacity as a result of low number of cases, even as it continued vaccinating the residents.
The state COVID-19 Incidents Manager, Dr Taiwo Ladipo, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday said isolation centres in Olodo and Jericho were still working while new ones built in Ogbomoso and Igbo Ora had been completed but not yet in use.
Ladipo added, “We have not shut down activities, though looking at our figures, we have got massive reduction in number of cases. If we shut down, reopening would not be easy, so we are still working there.”
He said the number of patients on admission at the isolation centres could not immediately be ascertained because of those who came in and those who were discharged.
Lagos eases restrictions on event centres
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government on Friday said it had further eased restrictions on event centres across the state.
It, however, said event centres must hold a valid licence from the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture prior to operating, and that events should not exceed a maximum period of six hours. It also said marshals would be deployed by an accredited event safety consultant from the Lagos State Safety Commission.
In a statement titled, ‘Lagos State Government eases restrictions on social and event centres,’ the government said all event centres must be duly registered and verified on the website of its safety commission and that prior to holding any event, they must obtain safety clearance from the commission.
The statement added that event centre owners, planners and vendors would be held responsible for any breach of protocols by their members of staff while any violation of the COVID-19 protocols would attract fines and penalties in line with the Lagos State Infectious Diseases Control Regulation 2020.
The statement quoted the Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuff, and the Director-General of the Lagos State Safety Commission, Mr Lanre Mojola, as saying Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu gave the approval with immediate effect after due consultation and deliberations with relevant stakeholders.
It added, “Occupancy limit at any event must not exceed 50 per cent of the maximum design capacity of the hall, wherein occupancy limit stickers provided by the Lagos State Safety Commission must be boldly pasted at the entrance of the event hall. Maximum allowable capacity for event centres, irrespective of occupancy limit, is 500 people.
“Deep cleaning must be carried out before and after every event. Physical distancing shall be maintained between seated guests and a maximum number of seated guests should be six people on a table of 10 persons.”
It added that safety protocols like use of face masks, hand sanitisers, handwashing and temperature checks must be strictly adhered to on the premises.
It added, “Guests and service providers with temperature above 37.5 are to be politely turned back and referred to paramedics or the emergency response team on the ground.”