The fear of the coronavirus spread in the country grew on Tuesday as the House of Representatives resolved that the National Assembly should suspend plenary to prevent lawmakers from being infected with the disease.

The House took the decision as the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, who had just returned from China, was in self-isolation for 14 days.

Also the Federal Government said it had deployed environmental health officers in public places such as motor parks, markets and schools to stem the spread of the disease.

But despite government’s efforts, fear of spread of the disease heightened as patients and their relatives in some hospitals, including the National Hospital, Abuja, were on Tuesday wary of people with symptoms such as sneezing and coughing, which are similar to coronavirus.

As the coronavirus panic increased, the Vice- Chairman of Senate Committee on Customs, Senator Francis Fadahunsi, raised the alarm that unrestricted smuggling of Chinese okirika (second hand clothes) into Nigeria through Onne Port in Rivers State could worsen the disease in the country.

Following the diagnosis of an Italian businessman with the disease on Thursday, no fewer than 58 people are currently being isolated.

The Italian, who arrived in the country on Monday last week, abroad a Turkish Airlines flight, went to Lafarge African Plc, Ewekoro, Ogun State, from where he was referred to Lagos, when he developed symptoms similar to coronavirus.

He was diagnosed with coronavirus and he is currently in isolation at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, Lagos.

The government, had on Monday raised the alarm that 158 people abroad the same plane with the Italian could not be traced, raising concerns that the level of the spread of the disease could not be ascertained.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives called for the suspension of the National Assembly plenary for two weeks.

The House said the management of the legislature should install screening and sanitation devices at the National Assembly complex during the period.

While they were making the call, the lawmakers were cautious in their interactions with one another for fear of being infected with the virus.

For instance, as the presiding and principal officers walked into the chamber, the Deputy Minority Whip, Adesegun Adekoya, was seen extending his legs to members on both sides of the isle to greet them.

Another member, Buba Yakub, after having a conversation with the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, also greeted the Clerk to the House, Patrick Giwa, with legs.

Edo lawmaker wears mask, others greet with legs

A member from Edo State, wore a surgical face mask. His appearance caught the attention of lawmakers in the chamber, some of whom walked to where he was seated to exchange pleasantries.

A member, Mr Josiah Idem, moved a motion of urgent public importance titled ‘The Need for Emergency Response and Tackling of Deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19)’, which the House unanimously adopted.

At the end of the debate, the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, among other lawmakers, moved for an amendment to the motion, praying that the House should “urge the entire National Assembly to embark on two weeks’ suspension of plenary to enable the management of the National Assembly to put measures in place to take care of the rapid surge of this coronavirus.”

Elumelu also prayed the House to mandate the committees on health, house services and internal security to ensure compliance with the resolution.

Earlier, the lawmaker had raised a point of order on legislative privilege, saying, “I think that this House should suspend plenary for a period of two weeks or thereabout, for the management to sanitise everybody and allow it to put measures in place, so that all of us can be tested. It may sound like a joking matter but it is a very serious matter. And I think this House should take this as a very serious matter, otherwise, you would not know who to shake hands with.”

Several members, who contributed to the debate, pointed out that Nigeria had yet to be prepared to contain the disease, saying only Lagos, Abuja and Kano had isolation centres.

In his contribution, Abiante Dagomie said, “Here in the chamber, we shut down a motion to bring back our brothers and sisters in Wuhan. Why did we shut down the motion? It was for fears of not having to bring the disease here. Finally, our fears have caught up with us. We saw when ministers were saying, that Nigeria was ready for the coronavirus, probably that was the invitation that led to the virus to come.

“Even when the Minister (of Health, Dr Osagie Enanire) was addressing the world, the type of seat that he sat on showed the world how ready Nigeria was.”

Moving the motion, Josiah, among other things, said, “The House is worried that the socioeconomic implications of the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria can be very disastrous. This can be threatening to the lives of about 200 million Nigerians. Hence, events have been cancelled or rescheduled as the disease ravages the world.

“The House is concerned that with the current situation of health facilities in Nigeria, the virus, if not properly checked or curtailed, will easily be transmitted within the larger population and may lead to a wider catastrophe.

“The House notes that the Federal Government needs to move swiftly and intensify collaborations with health agencies to nip it in the bud at this early stage of the outbreak of the infection in the country.”

Josiah prayed the House to mandate the leadership of the National Assembly to set up an ad hoc committee to interface with the executive, health agencies and institutions, with a view to overcoming and eliminating the dreaded novel coronavirus recently brought into the country.

He also called for the immediate activation of all centres established and designated for the treatment and management of Ebola cases in the country for the management of suspected cases and victims of COVID-19.

NCDC boss in self-quarantine, says health minister

The Minister of Health, Ehanire, when he appeared before Senate leadership on Tuesday, explained why the director general of the NCDC was in self-quarantine for 14 days.

He told the Senate principal officers that Ihekweazu was quarantined because he just returned from China.

He said the standard practice was for anyone coming into Nigeria to be quarantined for 14 days before mingling with other members of the public.

He also explained that the NCDC boss would remain in his house throughout the two week period.

The Minister said, “We were honoured that one of the scientists that the World Health Organisation had chosen to go to China to study the disease was the DG of NCDC.

The Presidency on Tuesday joined other government establishments in taking protective measures over the coronavirus by screening all visitors to the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

It was also observed that most Aso Rock workers were also screened as they entered the main reception for public access into the offices.

Health personnel stationed at the reception, checked the temperature of persons arriving for the business of the day at the seat of power.

The visitors were also given hand sanitisers to disinfect their hands before proceeding further into the building.