The global death toll from the new coronavirus epidemic surpassed 3,000 last week after dozens more died at its epicentre in China and cases soared around the world with a second fatality on US soil.
The virus has now infected more than 88,000 people and spread to over 60 countries after first emerging in China late last year.
Isolation centres for potential patients suffering from the coronavirus in Nigeria disease are not ready in the Federal Capital Territory and some states such as Kano, Rivers and Ogun.
Some of the centres are still under construction, others lack necessary equipment for patients and medical personnel that would work in the centres.
It was also gathered that the Federal Government had posted more medical personnel to international airports to assist in the screening of passengers.
Nigeria recorded its first coronavirus case on Thursday when an Italian businessman, who was on a visit to Lafarge Africa Plc, Ewekoro, Ogun State, was diagnosed with the disease.
The Italian, who arrived in Lagos last Monday aboard a Turkish Airlines flight, was said to have spent the night in a hotel around the airport before he was driven in a Lafarge vehicle to Ewekoro on Tuesday morning.
When he fell ill on Wednesday, he went to the company clinic, where he tested negative for malaria and he was subsequently referred to Lagos, where he tested positive to coronavirus.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, had on Saturday said the Italian was clinically stable.
Both the Lagos and Ogun state governments have identified no fewer than 100 people who had contact with the index case. At least 39 of them are being quarantined in Ogun State.
Investigations revealed that the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada – the proposed isolation centre – was actually under construction with low dry grass surrounding part of the premises.
Although there were no construction workers on site, an employee of the hospital said they were present until Saturday evening and that they only rested on Sunday. She said they would resume work on the site on Monday.
Doctors at the teaching hospital said the health institution was not ready to serve as an isolation centre in the event of coronavirus cases.
As part of its preparedness for coronavirus, the Federal Government said some isolation centres had been identified across the country, with one of the facilities said to have been located at the UATH.
It said in case any passenger developed coronavirus symptom at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, the person would be housed at the teaching hospital in Gwagwalada, Abuja.
The Chairman of the Association of Resident Doctors in the hospital, Dr Bob Abbah, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the level of preparation was low and that the hospital management did not involve resident doctors in any preparation for coronavirus.
He said, “There is a building on the premises that has yet to be completed; that is the proposed isolation centre. People are talking about the hospital as an isolation centre (for coronavirus); that is how we heard about it. Nobody has called us (doctors) to inform us or involve us in any discussion or preparation that a centre has been put in place.
“We heard that the uncompleted building is an isolation centre but we have not been briefed on any modality or (handling of) equipment in the centre. We do not know what equipment has been brought in to work with.
“In fact, when I heard that there was a patient with haemorrhagic viral fever and that he was to be referred to the teaching hospital, I was wondering where he would be taken to (isolated) because the isolation centre I know is the one under construction.”
Asked if there was a temporary isolation centre being considered before the completion of the one under construction, Abbah said he was unofficially aware that there was a move to convert the accident and emergency annex building into a temporary isolation centre. He however said even the proposed building was not fully completed.
When one of our correspondents visited the accident and emergency building, it was locked with no sign of it being in use already. The ARD boss said there was no furniture in the building.
Abbah added, “I heard that the Minister of Health visited the hospital to inspect the building under construction and the CMD stated that the accident and the emergency annex, which is also under construction and not equipped, will be used as an isolation centre for patients pending when the new one will be completed. I was not called to be part of the meeting.
“We felt that we are supposed to be part of this arrangement but we are watching and waiting. Maybe when they open the place, since they did not inform us and they are also doctors, they can handle the centre by themselves. Nobody told us the level of preparedness and what is expected of us as resident doctors in the hospital.”
One of the doctors in the hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said health workers in the hospital had not been trained in how to handle coronavirus infected persons.
He said, “As it is now, I don’t think that any doctor knows the teaching hospital is designated for training in coronavirus care. One thing is to know that your centre is designated (as an isolation centre), but nobody here has told us that this place is an isolation centre. We are not aware of that.”
Public Relations Officer of the hospital, Mr Frank Omagbon, said he was on holiday and not in a position to speak for the hospital. He also directed all enquiries to the CMD of the hospital.
He said, “I am on holiday now and will not be able to speak on that. I will advise you to go to the hospital on Monday and see the CMD. If I’m in office, it would be different.”
Also, there were indications on Sunday that the Rivers State isolation centre was not ready. When contacted, the state acting Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Dr Chinwe Atata, refused to disclose the location of the isolation centre.
Atata, who is also the Director, Planning, Research and Statistics, said, “We have an isolation centre. But for reason of confidentiality, we will not give that information out.”
She, however, stated that the state was ready to fight the dreaded coronavirus.
Atata said, “For the avoidance of doubt, there is no known case of coronavirus in the state as of now. The state has mapped out isolation treatment centres in case of any eventuality.”