Nigeria’s federal government on Thursday gave an update on its fight against the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the country, saying it has spent some N122 billion to procure the Johnson & Johnson vaccines for the citizenry.
It, however, noted that the number of delta variant infections so far recorded across the country did not warrant another lockdown as witnessed in the wake of the pandemic last year.
The on-going strike action embarked upon since the beginning of the month by doctors under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors ((NARD) also received the attention of government, which threatened to apply the “no work no pay” policy if the doctors failed to return to work.
Meanwhile, the cholera outbreak is reported to have affected 22 states with a total of 31,000 people infected and 816 deaths.
Executive Director/CEO of National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuiab, who spoke at the weekly ministerial press briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team at the State House, Abuja said in order to further combat the spread of the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) in the country, the federal government has procured over 29 million single dose of Johnson and Johnson vaccines at the cost of $298.5 million (over N122 billion).
This, he stated, was to enable the country vaccinate 70 per cent of eligible members of the population.
According to him, the 177,600 doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines that arrived the country with roll wout schedule for Monday, was part of 29 million doses the government procured that is being expected.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, while talking on the third wave of Covid-19 brought about by the delta variant said, “lockdown is a very, very last measure that countries are taking, because lockdown stifles economic activity, restricts your own freedom and your business – corporate business, government business, private business – all are affected.
“So, it’s not something you do easily. And, of course, when we were compelled to have that lockdown at the beginning, we learnt a lot of lessons. You know, at that time government provided palliatives to release the impact of it; If you couldn’t go to market, if you couldn’t do your business.
“But this is not what government is aiming to do. No government wants to do a lockdown. In countries, where they have had serious threat, they have had to do what they call a precision lockdown like in the UK. In fact, Israel the other day announced that they’re doing some lockdown, but there’s no more generalised lockdown but precision lockdown of certain areas.
“So many countries do what they call precision lockdown so that not everybody will be affected, only certain areas to avoid too much damage to the economy, to social life. And we are not at the level yet where we are feeling that threat to do any lockdown. And as I speak to you now, there are several countries that are on one kind of lockdown or the other. If my recollection is correct, at least six or seven countries are doing one form of lockdown or the other. We do not have that on the table right.”
The minister also used the forum to appeal to striking doctors, under the auspices of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), saying embarking on an industrial action in the mid of the third wave of Covid-19 pandemic with the arrival of Delta variant, cholera outbreak in 22 states and Marburg virus (similar to Ebola) outbreak was not only dangerous but unconscionable.
According to him, the federal government would not hesitate to apply the International Labour Organisation’s policy of “No Work, No Pay”, if the doctors insisted on carrying on with the strike, stressing that they would not be paid from tax payers money for doing nothing.
He also denied threatening to sack resident doctors, who withdrew their services nationwide since August 2 over alleged poor conditions of service, explaining that all the engagements and consultations so far have been to appeal to them to call off the strike.
Further on the doctors’ strike, Ehanire said it was not a good time for doctors to go on strike.
He stated, “We’re having a strike for the third time this year. That is not good. We have appealed to them. We have been having long meetings with young doctors to tell them that look, we have a certain responsibility to our country.
“Every country that has difficult situation at this time should understand that responsibility is on all of us if you have any problem, any grudge let’s talk about it. If we can’t solve it now, let’s continue talking about it until we fine solution but don’t drop work.
“I think Nigeria is probably the only country in the world today where doctors are dropping work in the middle of a threat to the whole country. So, that’s what we have advised. There has been no threat. Nobody threatened anything. We are just appealing. All of us are doctors; all of us went through the same residency.
“We’re saying this is not the time; let’s continue to talk about it. Do not put people’s lives at risk. That’s what the Minister of Labour has been saying, that is what the minister of Health has been saying. Nobody has threatened anybody with anything.”
When reminded of the threats of no work no pay, the minister said, “Yes, but that’s a standard thing. That’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommendation that if you did not work, then why will you take…your salary comes from taxpayers money.
“So, if you did not work, why should you be paid, because if that is so you can be encouraged to stay home for six months and your salary is running from public funds, from taxpayers money, when you have not given the community any service?
“So, that no work, no pay is not just the government regulation, it is specifically stated in International Labour Organisation that if you do not work, if you have not given any service, you can’t expect regulation, because you can’t go to market and buy something for nothing. You must put down something, you must put down work.
“You cannot go to market and take goods without paying. So, if you work, you will be paid. And we are strongly in support of government meeting its obligations to pay what is agreed. We have said that we shall push for that, you know, working with the salaries and wages commission, the head of service, we are working to support that including paying all the insurance dues.
“But we cannot go against what the ILO says: pay people that did not go to work. I mean, I think before God and man, you can defend that position, but there is no question of threats. These young doctors are professionals, not just professionals, they are young people, who we need to also mentor and treat well, to the best of all our capacity here.
“So, the strike is not what we want now. We would like to again, use this platform to ask doctors to return to work, let us negotiate. We can do that among us. There are many areas the Ministry of Health supports them. But part of the problem we have is that some of the grudges that they have, or let us say the demands are with state governments not the federal government. So, if the state government has not paid some people salary, why go on nationwide strike?
“We say if you want to talk to that state, I will support you and appeal to the state. Among the 12 original demands that they made, seven were state related. They’re not federal, federal government cannot compel a state to pay you a certain salary that you want. But the ones that are concerning us at federal level, many of them are not even exactly the Ministry of Health either.
“But we support them and say strike is not a good tool to use. And especially when the health of the country is threatened, when people will come out and volunteer in other countries to work. That is not the time to withdraw your own service. And I think again, we’ll continue to appeal to young doctors not to use strike as a tool, especially, at a time of national need that will not rest well on your conscience.”
On her part, Director General of National Agency For Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, explained that recent delays associated with the application of moderna vaccines donated by the United States was as a result of laboratory testing, where some insignificant quantities had bar-coding errors, which had to be sorted.
According to her, NAFDAC has been working round the clock to resolve the slight hitches, which had nothing to do with the vaccine quality, adding that in the previous vaccination exercises, 12,000 Nigerians reported mild side effects.
On his part, the Director General of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said recent outbreak of cholera was now in 22 states of the federation, with over 31,000 people already infected and 816 deaths.
Deji Elumoye in Abuja