Thursday, May 21, 2020 3:33 pm
There is not a better imagery for depiction of COVID-19 and the terror it has constituted to the world, starting from late December last year when the first case of the virus behind the illness was detected in Wuhan, the capital of Hube Province of China than the one adopted by Daniel Uhlfelder, an Attorney in Florida.
Concerned that people in his part of Florida were throwing caution to the wind by flocking the beaches while COVID-19 was still causing havoc, the Attorney took on the character of Grim Reaper, depicted as death in European folklore (going around in a dark hooded cloak while wielding a scythe for the grisly business of harvest of human souls) to warn that the danger is not over.
“I know how beautiful and attractive our beaches are. But if we don’t take measures to control things, this virus is going to get really, really out of control,” CNN quoted the lawyer as saying after he, scythe in hand, visited one of the beaches crowded with people.
The description is even more fitting as Encyclopedia Britannica traces the origin of the folklore of the Grim Reaper to the 14 Century pandemic, regarded then as the world’s worst which claimed about one third of Europe’s entire population. The publication noted that the first outbreak of the pandemic, also known as Black Death, occurred during 1347–51. The pandemic recurred several other times after that. “So, clearly, death was something that the surviving Europeans had on their mind, and it is not surprising that they conjured an image to represent it,” the publication said.
Covid-19 which has forced a lockdown of social, economic and even, political activities in most parts of the globe since the beginning of the year may not have been able to kill one third of people in any continent, including Africa, where the health system and ability to respond to such pandemic is believed to be generally poor. Indeed, data indicated that over 95 per cent of those who got infected with the virus eventually recovered.
But it’s a sly disease which respects neither friend nor foe in its manner of spread and personalities it attacks. The highest confirmed loss to the virus at the governmental level so far in Nigeria was Mallam Abba Kyari the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari who succumbed to the infection on 17 April. Recent death of at least one Emir in Northern Nigerian has been linked to the infection while three Nigerian governors have been infected, but successfully battled the disease.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson was top among political leaders across the world that have been infected by the virus which has also not spared the British Royal Family. Thousands of healthcare personnel involved in the management of the disease in the world ranked among those who have been infected and have succumbed to the disease.
Yet, the virus is powerful enough to force closure of religious places and cancellations of religious festivals that have been on for many years. Perhaps, most feared is its capacity to overwhelm the health system like it happened in Europe and the US, where at the height of the pandemic, infected persons were being left to die in their homes because there were simply no bed spaces for them at the hospitals.
Data from John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre indicated that over 3.6 million people have been infected while 257, 425 lives have been lost to the pandemic globally as at the morning of Wednesday, 6 May. Thousands more cases of infections and deaths caused by the virus would have been recorded by the time you are reading this story, in spite of the fact that many countries are now reporting a slowdown in the spread of the pandemic in their territories.
Hence, the battle to stop the virus from doing ‘maximum damage’ to the human race and its means of survival is one that will continue for a long time. The virus, with its lethal impacts on life and livelihoods, Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said in a recent interview with ITV has sparked the greatest threat to humanity, the type that had not been witnessed before. “It is the worst crisis since the Great Depression. But it is more than that because it is a combination of a health crisis and an economic shock. And it is truly global,” Georgieva said.
From Wuhan To The World
SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the disease later named COVID-19 sneaked in when pneumonia of unknown cause was detected in Wuhan, a city in Hube Province of China and reported to the WHO Country Office in China on 31 December 2019. It was also discovered that several of those infected worked at Wuhan’s Seafood Wholesale Market, which was consequently shut down on 1 January as health experts worked to identify the virus which had by then infected over 40 people.
But a laboratory in Shangai, one of China’s biggest cities, later confirmed that the virus behind the raging illness was genetically related to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which also originated in China between 2002 and 2003. The possibility of human to human transmission of the virus was raised on 6 January when a doctor and 13 nurses contracted the infection after operating on an infected patient. The virus was formally identified as novel or new coronavirus the next day. Chinese officials told the WHO on 7 January that they had identified the virus which was eventually named 2019-nCoV, a member of coronavirus family, which includes SARS and the common cold.
The first casualty of the virus was a 61-year-old man who was admitted for treatment on 9 January, but died three days later of heart failure. He was said to have purchased items in the seafood market. The incubation period of the virus in infected persons was identified as 14 days on 13 January.
The first case of the virus outside China was taken by a woman from Wuhan to Thailand on 13 January, according to WHO. A second death from the virus was recorded in Wuhan, on 17 January. However, it was not until 19 January that a Chinese Pulmonologist ( a doctor who specialises in treatment of the diseases of the respiratory system) identified as Nanshan Zhong, announced that human to human spread of the infection had been established.
By then, the virus had begun to wreak real havoc among the population of the city of Hube Pronvince with over 200 infections and cases also reported in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen on 20 January. China also reported a third death and more. Analysts believe that the widespread of the virus was aided by the celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year banquet and Annual Spring Festival which brought many people together in the Hube Pronvince. Therefore, to stop the rapid spread of the infection, Chinese authority placed cities of Wuhan, Xiantao and Chibi, all in Hubei province on quarantine on 23 January.
However, in spite of the measures, lives lost to the virus in China had increased to 170, with 7,711 cases reported while the infection had spread to all 31 provinces of the country by 30 January. Cases of the virus were confirmed in South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, US, Nepal, France, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore in the following day. The rapid spread of the infection led the WHO to declare a global emergency over the virus at the end of January.
However, the number of deaths in China had increased to 304 with report of 14,380 infections at the beginning of February. The first death to the virus outside China occurred in Philippines on 2 February. The victim was a Chinese from Wuhan. Malaysia reported the country’s first known human-to-human transmission of the virus on 6 February while the number of people infected in Europe rose to 30. On 9 February, China reported 811 deaths and 37,198 infections; the death toll surpassed that recorded by the Asian country during the 2002-03 SARS epidemic. This prompted the WHO to send an investigative team of experts to China.
On 11 February, the WHO announced that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) as the virus strain behind coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The virus continued its spread in Middle East with Iran reporting two deaths from the coronavirus, hours after confirming its first cases on February 19, while South Korea reported its first death from the coronavirus on 20 February.
The virus landed in Africa on 14 February when Egypt reported its first case. France also reported Europe’s first death from the virus the same day. By 25 February, Iran’s number of cases of Covid-19 had risen to 95 with 15 deaths. Other countries like Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Norway, Romania, Greece, Georgia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Macedonia, Brazil, Estonia, Denmark, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands, Lithuania and Wales confirmed their first cases before the end of February.
“We must give credit to the man, who professionally, had mentioned to me towards the end of last year (2019) urging that we should prepare for COVID-19, noting that there was trouble coming. In January, specifically, after we’ve cleared off the budgetary matters, the commissioner said to me that the pandemic was coming and it would get to us and what we needed to do was to activate a few things and I agreed with him,” Governor Sanwo-Olu said in an interview with Thisday newspaper.
Lagos has continued to be the epicenter of the virus in the country since the index case of the infection in Nigeria, an Italian Engineer landed in the country on 27 February 2020.
Realizing the enormity of the challenges posed by the epidemic to the country, President Muhammadu Buhari on 9 March set up a 12- member Presidential Task Force for Control of the COVID-19, chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha.
The National Coordinator of the committee saddled with the task of coordinating and overseeing multi-sectoral inter-governmental efforts to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria was Dr. Sani Aliyu. Other members are Minister of Health, Prof Osagie Ehanire; Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; Minister of Aviation, MrHadi Sirika; Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Services, Sadiya Umar-Farouk; Minister of Education, MrAdamu Adamu; Minister of Environment, Mr Mohammed Mahmoud; Director-General, Department of State Services, Mr Yusuf Bichi; Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control; Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu; and World Health Organisation Country Representative.
The Committee has been handling Nigeria’s national response to the epidemic on behalf of the President.
It was believed that recommendations by members of the committee led to the one month lockdown imposed on Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory which ended on 4 May.
The Committee has also been working with states to control the pandemic even as cases have been on the increase in the country after the beginning of the ease of the lockdown. The Committee has been working with the Director General of NCDC to ramp up testing infrastructure and to put in place appropriate framework for responding to the pandemic in Nigeria.
There are fears that Kano may in the next few weeks overtake Lagos and become the new epicenter of the virus, especially if the NCDC and the State Government fulfilled the promise of ramping up tests for the virus in the state. The number of cases is also growing rapidly in Katsina, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Bauchi and Sokoto. Significantly, most of the 74 active cases in Kaduna as at Thursday last week were street children popularly known as almajiris deported from Kano to the state. Positive cases of the virus have also been confirmed in almajiris in Bauchi, a situation which, according to an analyst, may indicate wide-spread community transmission of the virus across the North.
However, the fact is that Lagos with its ongoing active search for the cases, increase in number of tests will continue to be the centre of the epidemic in Nigeria for sometimes to come. The Lagos State team has been proactive in terms of construction of isolation centres which were also made comfortable for the patients.
Some of the patients discharged from the isolation centres have confessed to the good state of the facilities and well as the quality of care from the healthcare personnel. The State has also acted as a buffer to the country for the disease by helping to quarantine Nigerian returnees, to ensure that they are not carrying the virus before they are dispersed into the larger population.
Many believed that Lagos, which has 920 patients on admission with 358 already discharged will continue to cope in spite of the reports of the strains on the resources of the state and emerging reports of scarcity of test kits and lack of bed space with the Governor and his able commissioner in charge. Other Governors that have also been proactive in response to the pandemic in Nigeria include the Governor of Osun State, Gboyega Oyetola and Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State who helped the country avert what could have been a big disaster by stopping Nigerian returnees from Ivory Coast who later tested positive for the virus from joining the general population until they were treated. Governor Nasir-el Rufai of Kaduna, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Elkiti and Nyesom Wike of Rivers have also risen up to the challenge of combating the virus within their territory, taking difficult actions when necessary.
While most of the other Governors claim that they have put in place the necessary structures to tackle the crisis, the protest by Covid-19 patients over lack of feeding and treatment in Gombe last Tuesday indicated that most of the state chief executives are not saying the truth.
Another instance of lack of seriousness on display in tackling the challenge of coronavirus in the country was the report that seven out of the 124 persons were released from isolation centre in Jalingo before the release of the result of their Covid-19 tests which later came out positive. Kogi and Cross River are two states that have not recorded any case of Covid-19 as at the time of writing this story last week. Yet, it is believed that the two states have remained free because the Governors had discouraged testing for the virus among their people. The situation in Kogi, particularly the attitude of Governor Yahaya Bello to the pandemic can be likened to that of the historical Emperor Nero, the early Christian Era Roman ruler. who fiddled away while Rome was on fire – a case of unpreparedness, I don’t care attitude. Life goes on almost as usual.
The Governor’s case was even more pathetic given the fact that there were fears that he may have contracted the virus from the late Abba Kyari who led a presidential delegation to Kogi to condole with him over his mother’s death before he tested positive for the virus. But rather than address the issue properly, Bello had rained invectives on those who entertained such concerns, tagging them his enemies. In a video that went viral on the social media, Bello, obviously at a gym to show how strong he is, was heard repeatedly shouting “ain’t got Covid.”
He then said anyone who wished him otherwise would have the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV. The Governor has continued to treat the issue of putting in place an isolation centre for Kogi with lack of seriousness. Although the state is yet to record any case of the virus, it has border with ten states and the FCT, all of which have active cases of the pandemic.
Ironically, Kogi was among the first states to announce measures to contain the spread of the pandemic. Governor Bello had designated two isolation centres and inaugurated a 29-man squadron headed by his Deputy, Edward Onoja on the pandemic immediately Nigeria recorded its index case. He also announced closure of schools and restriction of social activities.
The two designated isolation centres – FAREC Clinic and the Diagnostic Centre of the State Specialist Hospital are however in complete State of disuse as was discovered by this magazine. When TheNews visited FAREC Clinic, it was in a state of dilapidation and not equipped for any emergency on the breakout of the pandemic and no any sign of recent usage.
The situation at the Diagnostic Centre was not better. The gate was under lock with few petty traders operating outside its premises. No medical personnel were seen around the two centres.
A source at the Specialist Hospital who preferred not to be named said the Diagnostic Centre was an ongoing project not yet in use. He said no activities have taken place in recent times.
Last week there were insinuations that a makeshift structure that collapsed in a windstorm at the Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Lokoja, was designed for isolation centre on which government allegedly spent billions of naira to construct. But government promptly issued a rebuttal.
Commissioner for Information and Communication, Kingsley Fanwo said although the place was constructed with funds from Kogi State Government, it was originally designed for Lassa fever patients. He denied the N7bn. claim. He said there is a private medical facility in Ankpa which has been donated to government as an Isolation Centre.
There are fears that the operation of the Covid-19 Committee may have been affected by shortage of funds.
MrIdris Miliki, a Lokoja based social crusader and Executive Director, Conscience for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, called on the governor to facilitate release of funds to boost efforts to keep covid-19 out of the State.
“It is disturbing, that since the composition of this important committee and its inauguration, the State Government is yet to release money and materials for the committee to commence substantive activities and set up genuine isolation and testing centres across the State, as there are no equipment purchase by the State Government. Why did the State Governor refuse to release money for the committee to function effectively?
“The so called isolation centre at FAREC CLINIC is a shadow of its self, as it lacks modern equipment to carry-out all these important assignment.
NCDC boss, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu had recently suggested that States which had not yet recorded an index case of the virus may have something to hide. He said they are probably not following the NCDC protocols or they are not sending samples for testing.
The government replied that it would not manufacture Covid-19 cases and accused the agency of playing politics with the pandemic. In another statement government hinted at plans to import the disease or declare fictitious cases in the state.
Last week one Tayo Soyombo, in a series of tweets that went viral, alleged that at least four persons had died of the virus at FMC since 22 March. The State NMA, in statement by its Chairman, Dr. Zubaru had also accused the State government of not adhering strictly to the protocols and guidelines on the pandemic. The union called for regular tests on suspected cases.
But the association later recounted. However, health workers at FMC had also raised alarm that they were unduly putting their lives and those of their family at risk by treating Covid-19 suspects without confirmation and PPE. They threatened to embark on strike over the issue.
Supports For Nigeria
The study, the agency said, was based on data from 6,866 Italian municipalities, about 87 per cent of the total municipalities in the country and covered the period from when first locally transmitted case of the virus was detected in the country’s Northern Town of Codogno, until when the infection curve started to flatten.
The agency noted that this means excess mortality of 25,000 for the time period, even though there were only 13,710 fatalities officially linked to coronavirus then.
“The rest could either be undiagnosed COVID-19 cases or people with other conditions who were not treated properly while the health system was overwhelmed by the epidemic, “it said while noting that more than 90 per cent of the excess mortality were in municipalities with high virus infection rates, mostly in the North of the country.”
It noted that in March, the number of deaths compared to the 2015-2019 average jumped by 568 per cent in Bergamo province, 391 per cent in Cremona province, and 370 per cent in Lodi province.
Last Tuesday, the United Kingdom took the baton from Italy as the country worst-hit by the virus in Europe. UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) coronavirus-registered death figures revealed that the total death toll has passed 32,000, making Britain the worst-hit country in Europe followed by Italy where coronavirus related the death toll was given as 29,315 as at that date.
Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson said many of the early COVID-19 cases imported into Britain came from European countries, rather than China. “Early in March the UK got many, many different imports of the virus from many different places, and those places were particularly from European countries with outbreaks,’’ Vallance said when speaking at the members of the UK’s Parliament Committee on Health and Social Care last Tuesday.“So we see a big influx – probably from Italy and Spain, looking at the genomics of the virus, in early March – seeded right across the country… a lot of the cases in the UK didn’t come from China and didn’t come from places you might have expected,’’ he said.
However, in spite of its new unenviable status as the new epicenter of the illness in Europe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson believed that Britain was “past the peak” of the COVID-19 outbreak. As such, he said a “comprehensive” plan will be published on “how we can continue to suppress disease’’ while restarting the economy.
Johnson confirmed during the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday that he will unveil details of his plan to start relaxing the lockdown on Sunday, 10 May.
Indeed, the US President who, many across the world, believed has failed to show leadership in tackling the pandemic has been at war with governors of some of the states in the country over the plans to reopen the economy. He has also egged on his supporters in their protests against lockdown measures put in place by their state governors to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Exchange of words between Trump and the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, over support and relationship between the States and the Federal Government dominates the media at the height of the pandemic just as the US President regularly dishes out insults to journalists at his daily media briefing which was stopped some months ago.
Many in the US believed Trump failed to live up to expectations with his failure to take urgent steps that would have limited the spread of the virus in the US, especially when cases in Europe began to rise late February.
Globally, the US President, according to analysts failed to show the usual leadership expected of the country as the world battles the pandemic. The American President had instead stumbled from one controversy to the other, including recommending the injection of bleaching agent and staying in the sunlight to kill the virus.
However, Trump had tried to deflect the accusation by accusing China of cover up of the virus in the early stage of its detection in alliance with the World Health Organisation. He had also claimed that the virus responsible for COVID-19 emerged from a mishap at a laboratory in Wuhan.
The American President had already stopped America’s funding to the WHO after he accused the Director General of collusion with China in hiding information about the virus from the US. He had also promised to punish China.
But US scientists and intelligence corps had insisted that Trump was alerted of the virus and its potential havoc as early as January, the US President failed to take action. One of such scientists is Rick Bright, former director of the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority who filed a whistleblower complaint about two weeks ago that he was sacked after the Trump administration rejected his coronavirus warnings after he “acted with urgency” to address the growing spread when the World Health Organization issued a warning in January.
Also, Dr Anthony Fauci again dismissed claims the coronavirus was created in a Chinese laboratory. “If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward the fact that this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told National Geographic magazine in an interview published.
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