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Coronavirus: Senate summons minister, warns Customs against ‘illegal’ exportation of face-masks

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Osagie Ehanire

Arrangments have been concluded by the leadership of the national assembly to invite the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, to brief the senate on the preparedness of his ministry towards taking precautionary measures to stem a possible outbreak of the Coronavirus in Nigeria.

This was even as the upper legislative chamber charged the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, to as a matter of urgency; introduce measures to stop the exportation of surgical face-masks from Nigeria to Asia and other countries affected by the dreaded Coronavirus.

The Senate also urged the Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Federal Ministry of Health, Nigerian Immigration Service and other relevant government authorities to strengthen port health regulatory services in all entry ports across the country to check the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria.

These resolutions were adopted following consideration of a motion sponsored by Senator Ifeanyi Ubah (YPP Anambra South), who said, “Over the last three weeks, face-masks have become the most sought after commodity in Nigeria with over 100 million face-masks being unpatriotically exported to Asia using the Murtala Mohammed Airport and Port Harcourt International Airport.”

According to Senator Uba, “the exportation of these face-masks has led to a surge in the market prices.”

“As at 5th of November, 2019, stores that usually sell 1 piece of face-mask for N10 now sell it for N80, while a pack consisting of 50 pieces has now inflated from N500 to N3,000; with a carton consisting of 40 packs also inflated from N20,000 to N120,000.

“It has now become a booming trade for illicit traders aided by airport officials in Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos and Port Harcourt International Airport to unpatriotically export face-masks to China, India and other affected countries,” he lamented.

Senator Uba warned that unless something is done, Nigeria may soon be facing shortage of protective surgical face-masks, especially against the backdrop that “Nigeria is on the brink of an imminent outbreak given our massive population and frequency to travel.”

The lawmaker further disclosed that “Chinese companies have sent their agents to scout for medical face-masks in Nigeria and other African countries”, adding that “India and other countries are mass producing the face-masks in order to curb this deadly trend.”

He noted with concern that the World Health Organization has recorded 565 deaths with 28,276 cases of infected persons.

“If proactive measures are not taken to checkmate borders, an imminent outbreak might occur in the same manner which an infected carrier immigrant from Liberia transferred Ebola disease to Nigeria in 2014,” Uba warned.

Consequently, the Senate urged the Nigerian Customs Service to impose strict penalties and heavy fines on anybody trying to export surgical face-masks within the period of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The upper legislative chamber also mandated the Health Ministry and other relevant agencies to launch a sensitization and awareness campaign in preventing an outbreak of the virus in Nigeria.

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