By Abujah Racheal
Abuja, – The Presidential Steering committee (PSC), has dismissed notion that health declaration forms were peculiar to Nigeria’s borders.
The committee says for border control and surveillance, there have always been health declaration forms, as this is not particular to the country alone.
Dr Mukhtar Muhammad, National Incident Manager, Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19, said this on Tuesday in Abuja.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that travellers into the country who were asked to upload their health certificates concerning COVID-19 and other infectious diseases like Ebola as requirement, had called on the government to stop the process.
They also alleged that the country alone had the difficult requirement.
” Let me take you back in history; you know, for border control and border surveillance, there have always been health declaration forms.
“We have for yellow fever, meningitis, cholera, even during the time of smallpox we had.
“All of these made the world realise that there is cross -border transmission of infection, and every country has its own set of rules.
“So, it is not true that it is only Nigeria that is doing health declaration; many countries are into the same practice,” he explained.
He said that concerning the COVID-19 certificate, or health declaration certificate, it was a universal requirement.
He further explained that when COVID-19 came, they all added COVID-19 to the health declaration form.
“Right now what we are doing is we are now reversing the situation to try to go back to the normal health declaration form if COVID-19 no longer poses risk internationally.
“It is just a process. It’s not something that Nigerians have to look at the parameters.’’
“The PSC on COVID-19, has monitored the situation in the last six months and has realised that the country has seen a sustained decline in the number of new cases of COVID-19,” he said.
He disclosed that the PSC on COVID-19 had noted a sustained decline in the importation of infection of COVID-19 from other countries.
Muhammad explained there had been a consistent decline in hospitalisation and the country had not recorded any mortality in the last 40 days, adding that these were the indices and it had to be sustained.
“So, with this now, we are braced up, we are ready to look at what needs to change in the current regulation and it is not only Nigeria, there are many.
“We review this on daily basis, work with the International Civil Aviation Authority and they provide guidelines about the requirements for other countries,” he said.
He explained that so far, the developed countries that dropped their regulations were probably because of their level of high vaccination and booster doses of COVID-19, which they had taken.
“Some of them realise that it is no longer required to do testing, to do upload vaccination certificates but still many countries do,” he said.
He said that as of Nov. 23, there were about 85 countries that still required people to do pre-departure testing, and about 49 countries still required people arriving in their countries to do a Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
He added that there were countries, about 30 of them, that required people to quarantine on arrival and this includes Canada, China, and even Africa.
“A lot of our African countries, Niger and Ghana have some form of protocol or other.
“But we understand, we bear the pressure, we know that Nigerians call us, especially people who travelled a lot say that they have been everywhere around the world.
Muhammad said that uploading the health declaration form was nothing because it could be done under two minutes.
“So if we don’t have that health declaration form in place, the danger is that we will not be able to track not only COVID-19 but we are having Ebola now in Uganda and some other parts of Africa.
“We want to track people who are at risk of transmitting this infection to other people.
“So with the health declaration form, we will be able to know where the person arrives, where he’s going to be located, his phone number, and his address.
“The system will pick up between the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC to notify the final destination.
“Whether it is a state or a local government we have district surveillance officers who will pick up that person almost immediately as diseases like Ebola can cause havoc in a matter of hours,” he said.
He also explained that people could come into the country as symptomatic, noting that they did not have any sign of being sick or infected.
“So in public health, what we do is that during that period, those people can still transmit the disease.
“So if you have this contact tracing mechanism, the form only helps us to do that contact tracking mechanism and to help.
“For example, in a plane, we know your seat number, we know who’s sitting next to you on your left, who’s sitting next on your right who’s in front of you who’s behind you, and those people are at risk already.
“With that form, we will be able to track them and monitor them, because they are likely and can also get infected during the transit journey in the flight and they can also infect other people.
“So that helps us to pinpoint the people because the disease does not occur immediately,” he explained.
He said that the health declaration form had several components, where people expressed the places they have been.
“For example, any person who has visited Uganda, for us, it’s a person of interest because we know Ebola is being circulated in that entire area.
“The person may not have contracted Ebola, he/she may not have any symptoms and we cannot stop that person from coming into Nigeria.
“But once he/she comes into the country and we realise that he/she was on the plane with someone who had an active Ebola or after he/she arrived and started expressing symptoms quickly, that person needs to be isolated,” he said.
Muhammed said that the health certificate form was also available at the country’s land borders, noting that it was also available as a compulsory form and it had been in existence since the seventies.
“The health declaration is being done by the Port Health Officers at the border,” he said.
The Incident Manager said that for every rule and regulation, there were people who liked to cut corners and did not follow it.
He noted that people fully vaccinated were to complete the health declaration form and summit, which allowed them to board.
“Partially, vaccinated people or unvaccinated this is where the issue comes, this is why they have tested 48 hours before they board the plane and after they arrive on day two or three.
“There is a difference between what is in the regulation and what people do.
“Nigerians going to Qatar now, ask them if they have to fill out their vaccination card. If they don’t, then they have to do a PCR test,” he said.
He said that completing the health declaration form was good for the country if the citizens understood the advantages, noting it was to protect everyone and it was an international health regulation, not particular to Nigeria.
He disclosed that the PSC on COVID-19 was looking at how to modify the requirements.
He noted that face masks were discretionary that people must wear their face masks in an enclosed environment and it was also recommended during shopping.
“We are going to lift a lot of the problems that people consider as restrictions and we’re going to get them down and we’ll make the announcement very soon.
“We have taken steps now; we are making some modifications and we have simplified the form.
“So it is going to be for general use for all other diseases just the way it was before COVID-19 and it is going to be effective,” he explained. (NAN)