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The Federal Government has vowed to sanction returning passengers who abscond from quarantine facilities, including possible prosecution of such individuals.
Addressing a news conference in Abuja, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, believed such persons constitute a major risk to the country’s health system.
He raised concerns over reports from port health officials that some passengers from high risks countries have continued to abscond from facilities where they were quarantined.
“The Federal Ministry of Health Point of Entry (PoE) pillar of the COVID-19 response has been continuously monitoring passenger arrivals especially from high-risk countries like India, Turkey, and Brazil.
“This process has been an arduous one given that port health staff have continued to report a trend of abscondment by quarantined passengers, an act detrimental to our pandemic response and public health safety,” the minister said on Monday.
He added, “I entreat all persons to comply with our port health staff or risk facing sanctions, including prosecution. Non-compliance with their directives constitutes a risk to national health security and will be handled with commensurate severity.”
Osagie noted that the world has witnessed an increase in reported cases of COVID-19 across a significant number of countries, due to the high transmissibility of the Delta Variant.
He explained that the threat included importation from countries that were popular travel destinations for Nigerians, including the United Kingdom, United States, UAE, France, and Turkey, which have a high incidence of virulent strain.
Push for vaccine sufficiency
The minister decried that COVID-19 treatment bed occupancy was also recording an increase given the established emergence of a third wave.
In preparation, he hinted that the government has taken steps to urgently scale up and enhance local oxygen capacity even before oxygen consumption increases.
According to Osagie, Nigeria is a well-traversed country and is susceptible to further importation of the virus, especially when there is clear evidence that the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has begun across the African continent.
“Nigeria is at increased risk if we continue to neglect public health protocols placed at points of entry, which are our first line of defence and a critical point of concern,” he warned.
The minister stated that Nigeria has invested directly and strategically in ensuring oxygen availability to avert unforeseen incidence of oxygen insufficiency for COVID-19 patients in the country.
On the push for COVID-19 vaccine sufficiency, he said the country was expecting over 29 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines purchased by the government through the African Union AVATT facility; as well as over four million Moderna and almost 700,000 AstraZeneca vaccines through the COVAX facility from bilateral donations from the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom, with Pfizer and Sinopharm from both bilateral agreements and through the COVAX facility.
“Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a one-dose vaccine, will be advantageous for our context with weak Civil Registration Vital Statistics (CRVS) and a nomadic population.
“We expect to take delivery of these vaccines within this third quarter with the Johnson & Johnson expected this August,” Osagie hinted.