Following the death of an Ebola virus victim from Liberia, Patrick Sawyer, in Lagos, on Thursday, the Federal Government and the Lagos State Government have jointly launched a manhunt for some of the passengers of the airplane that brought the late Liberian into the country, Sunday Newswatch has learnt.
The late Sawyer, who was reported to have arrived Nigeria last Sunday aboard a Liberian carrier, Asky Airline, was said to be in company of over 100 co-passengers of different nationalities, among who were about 35 Nigerians.
The 40-year-old visiting Liberian died of the deadly virus after being tested positive to the disease at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
According to sources in the Federal Ministry of Health, the Nigerian co-passengers of the late Ebola victim were supposed to be quarantined for thorough investigations, based on an order placed by the Federal Government, but no sooner had the news broken out, than the suspected victims of the deadly virus took to their heels, after having been contacted by officials of the ministry.
This prompted the Federal Government, in conjunction with the authorities in Lagos, to take the latest action and launch the manhunt, categorising the alleged escapees as fugitives.
Further investigations by Sunday Newswatch revealed that among them are two notable Nigerians, who live on a street in a vicinity categorised among the upper-end areas in Lagos.
A security personnel, who was among those detailed for the manhunt, confided in Sunday Newswatch that a serious search had began, in order to fish out suspected Ebola virus patients, who might be on the run, and that there were specific instructions to move them to designated quarantined areas, as soon as they are seen.
“We learnt that some of them are no longer staying in their houses, and that is why we are looking for them. They are not supposed to run; they should understand that government is only trying to help them.
“If they are tested and it is positive, they will quickly attend to them. The government knows how to help them, but they are running like criminals, as if they would be jailed. “But we must get them; we cannot allow them to mix with the people, and continue to spread the virus. It is very dangerous for the country”, the source said.
When probed further on the modus operandi of the search operation, he revealed that the exercise is not only being conducted by the Federal Government, but that they have the support of the Lagos State Government, which he claimed, has its personnel among the team looking for the escapees.
“We are not doing it alone, even Lagos people are with us. Just this morning, they held a meeting with us, and they helped us in the areas to visit. We just came back from a big man’s house. We went there with officials of Lagos, but the family said the man left for London yesterday.
“Though we don’t believe them, we have told the airport people to check the manifest of all airlines that left for London yesterday (Friday). We need to confirm his whereabouts,” he said.
The Lagos State Government had earlier announced that it was trying to establish contact with those that travelled with the late Sawyer on his way to Nigeria last Sunday, so as to ascertain their status, and ensure that they are properly treated, while preventing a spread of the disease.
The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, who disclosed this after confirming the death of the Liberian on Friday, said the hospital, where the deceased died, would also be cordoned off and sanitised, while explaining the need to properly dispose of the remains of the deceased.
“We are dealing with those he had contact with. We have the manifest for questioning to ensure we screen them. We are doing that already.
“There is a protocol; we are talking with the hospital involved, the staff over there, after dealing with the body, we have to deal with the hospital, to sanitise the hospital, more importantly too, there is the need for us to do contact tracing. We are doing that with the World Health (Organisation) people. We are going to trace all the contacts that the man came in with on the air plane, and where they went to.
“Since we have got the manifest now, we are going to trace all of them. Each one of them is going to be questioned, and there is protocol to follow for questioning. They are going to be followed in the next 21 days to see if any of them develops any symptom. This is what we are in the process of doing.
“We have been trying our best to contain the spread of the disease. We need to sanitise. We need to treat and dispose the body properly. Those are the things we are working on right now. “There are other processes and procedures we need to follow, which we are doing right now, and we are doing so in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Health,” he said.
He also revealed that the Lagos State Government, in conjunction with the Federal Government, had established contact with the Liberian Government to resolve all diplomatic issues concerning the burial.
“First and foremost, his body needs to be properly disposed. There are issues involving diplomatic relationship. We need to get consent from the Liberian Government, which the Federal Ministry for Health is doing right now. “But we have to deal with the body and how to sanitise and ensure that the viruses are killed and prevented from spreading. These are the issues we are handling right now. That is the latest we can give you now,” Idris had said on Friday. He further explained that governments at both levels were not leaving anything to chance.
“The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has stepped in to volunteer. The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has also stepped in. We have set up contact screening centres. We have the Federal Ministry of Health assisting us with laboratory work.
“All stakeholders are involved. We are confident that the step will stop further propagation of the disease. We plead that you do not spread scary messages, so as not to spread panic. “If you know anybody who has travelled to Liberia where the viral is established, report to us on time. We have set up treatment centres for probable symptoms,” he stated.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, also assured Nigerians that there was no cause for alarm, assuring that necessary steps had been taken to control the spread of the virus, noting that all the passengers that the patient came in contact with aboard Asky Airline had been traced and are being investigated.
“I want to reassure the general public that the Federal Ministry of Health is presently working with other ministries, agencies and international organisations, as well as with the Lagos State Government to prevent the possible spread of the virus.” According to the World Health Organisation, as at July 20, not less than 1,093 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia had been infected by Ebola, since its symptoms were first observed four months ago.
Tests confirmed the Ebola virus in 786 of those cases, of whom 442 died, and of the 1,093 confirmed as probable and suspected cases, 660 people have died. The Ebola virus matures and kills quickly. Meanwhile, the United States has said its officials are closely monitoring the outbreak of the deadly virus in Nigeria, and that it was working with the Federal Government and the Lagos State Government, as well as aid groups to try to stop the spread.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those fighting the virus,” Will Stevens, spokesman for the State Department’s Africa Bureau, said in an interview monitored on AFP, adding, “the US will continue to provide a comprehensive, multi-agency response to assist countries affected.”
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