States to begin COVID-19 testing next week

States will be able to conduct COVID-19 tests from next week, the Federal Government said on Thursday.

Tests will no longer be exclusively handled by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), its Director-General, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said.

Speaking during the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing in Abuja, he said the tests will be possible with the activation of the GeneXpert platform.

“We have provided the testing infrastructure and the reagents. By the end of next week, we hope to roll out the GeneXpert platform.

“Already, three states have started. By the end of tomorrow (today), we will have the GeneXpert in seven states.

“By the end of next week, every single state in Nigeria that wants to will be able to test within its boundaries,” he said.

The GeneXpert machine, used to test for tuberculosis, is being repurposed for COVID-19 using a different reagent (cartridge).

It tests far more samples than the standard PCR machine, has the same level of accuracy and produces results in less than two hours.

Ihekweazu said the shortest possible timeline for the development of any vaccine will be next year.

He said: “If we have a vaccine in 2021, it will be the fastest time to the development of a vaccine ever. The normal timeline for vaccine development has been between five to 10 years.”

World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Representative, Dr. Fiona Braka, said it usually takes many years to develop a vaccine.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and PTF Chairman Boss Mustapha said tracing and testing of cases had been made more difficult because of the fear of stigmatisation.

“Let me emphasise, therefore, that COVID-19 is not a condition to be ashamed of as it has no respect for status, nationality, race, creed, tribe, etc. Every person infected must be treated to prevent the spread and avoidable fatalities,” he said.

He urged hospitals not to reject patients but to follow the protocols for managing COVID-19 after getting accreditation.

Mustapha said he would return Nigeria to lockdown if he had the powers to do so because some persons are “already romancing with COVID -19” in the manner of Tom and Jerry.

“With 500 plus fatalities, you can’t be ignorant. You can’t say you don’t know of anybody that has fallen victim either by way of name or pictures but today they are no more,” he said

Mustapha indicated that the PTF will submit its first assessment report to President Buhari next week.

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