The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, says the centre had received a draft of guidelines by the Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association to reopen interstate transportation while preventing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

He urged other organisations and communities to come up with similar guidelines to expedite the process of safely reopening the economy.

Ihekweazu said, “I was happy yesterday to receive a new set of draft guidelines by the Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association. Those are people that manage the long distance buses that travel across the country, what we call ‘luxury’ buses.

“They had drafted their own guidelines for reopening safely and sent it to us for review and to advise them on the measures they are now recommending on how to manage their loading centres, buses and engagements with their customers at the point when we may allow them to reopen.

“This is what we’ve been advising every society, organisation, community, be it faith-based, cultural based, professionally based, to come up with guidelines for themselves. We are happy to advise and engage, but this needs to be led and owned by the leaders of those organisations.”

The NCDC DG added that every stakeholder in society needed to take responsibility of the part it owned and managed.

On testing in the country, he said the Federal Government would deploy 17 Gene Xpert machines next week.

The device, which is one of the most widely-used tuberculosis diagnostic tools in the world, has been deployed in some countries for conducting rapid COVID-19 tests.

Ihekweazu said, “We have about 400 Gene Xpert machines across the country. Not all of them are appropriate for COVID. We need those that have a safety cabinet where they are located. We also need those that are functional. Some of them have been around for quite a while.

“We have to prioritise, so we continue to do this. Seventeen of them are immediately ready for deployment in the first phase, which will start next week. I’m happy to announce that our first set of Gene Xpert cartridges will arrive in Nigeria on May 25.”

He added that there were criteria for deciding which state would get the machines first.

According to him, the primary recipients will be states without any laboratory at all, followed by states with high numbers of cases.

On the criteria for discharge of COVID-19 patients, Ihekweazu stated that the policy had been reviewed from two negative tests to one.

The NCDC DG also addressed concerns that the agency’s national database on COVID-19 cases and deaths did not reflect the mysterious deaths in Kano State, which are still under investigation.

Last month, hundreds were said to have died in strange circumstances within two weeks.

Ihekweazu said, “In terms of adding the deaths in Kano to our national database, our national database, at the moment, is based on biologically confirmed cases, that is, cases confirmed on PCR (polymerase chain reaction).

“Once the results of the Kano study are completely verified, we will note them but we will not include them in our database because of the difference in methods in estimating the number of people infected and have died in that particular context.”